Nutt: 'Really proud of our team'

ARLINGTON, Texas – There was a sense of relief following the Rebels' 21-7 win against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl, and you could tell it by the look on Houston Nutt's face.

It had been an up and down season for Ole Miss, and the only way to prevent a long winter was for his team to win one more time. And it did.

Perhaps not in the fashion he was looking for as the game unfolded, but certainly the result was one the second-year UM head coach could live with.

"I'm really proud of our team," said Nutt, flashing a Texas-sized smile for the second year in a row following a win in this Classic. "It's hard to win back to back bowls. We had excellent preparation. I was really disappointed offensively, shaking my head for about three-quarters. But our defense, it was just outstanding."

Ole Miss finished with an identical record of 9-4 – both the same as last year and the same as its opponent on this day, Oklahoma State. In the first half and into the third quarter, the Rebel defense was as good as it's been. And OSU could do nothing.

"Tyrone (Nix) had a tremendous game plan. And our guys play with a lot of heart," Nutt said. "Kentrell Lockett, Kendrick Lewis, Patrick Trahan, Marshay Green, all those guys. They were just outstanding and they were relentless chasing the ball, putting themselves in the right position."

And thankfully so. Because offensively the Rebels weren't in tip-top form much of the day.

"I wish we (offense) could have helped the defense a little bit more," Nutt said. "But the bottom line is winning."

Nutt said he now looks to the future, and maybe even to the recent past.

"This is going to help us in recruiting," he said. "It sets a foundation. To win the old Cotton Bowl, then to come in and win the new one in this magnificent place is just awesome."

Jevan Snead found the going rough in the first half and got his headgear knocked off trying to race down an OSU defender who had picked off one of his three interceptions.

Nutt said even though Snead was a bit shaky after the hit, he mainly inserted backup Nathan Stanley to try to get anything going offensively.

"I was just trying to find something," he said. "Jevan wasn't having his best game. He was turning it over. Sometimes you've got to make a tough move. He (Snead) did get hit. He took a real hard hit. So I used the next series to put Nathan in there."

It worked like a charm, although Nutt likely could not have envisioned the first play from scrimmage being a simple handoff for 86 yards and a touchdown - a Stanley to Dexter McCluster thriller.

"Nathan had some good practices, and he's got a good arm," Nutt said. "He made some good plays for us. He scrambled for a first down, got us out of a wrong play, handed the ball off nicely, and made a couple of good throws."

But as the game moved on, Nutt acknowledged it was time for the veteran to return.

"As it got tighter, I just needed the most experience I had," he said. "Jevan finished the game very nicely."

Nutt said Snead would not have gone back in had he not been physically fit to do so.

"I asked him if everything was OK, and he said yes," Nutt said. "He took a hard shot, but Jevan is tough."

Nutt said that Jerrell Powe not scoring early from the 1-yard line on two tries was difficult to accept, but having him stop the Cowboys on a fourth-down play was certainly some redemption.

"I would have bet everything he (would have scored)," Nutt said. "I've been teasing him about it. We should have been up 10 to 14 points. To give our defense a two-score lead, it builds confidence."

But the Rebels never could get that type lead, until late. And by then for Oklahoma State, it was too late.

As for moving ahead without McCluster, Nutt said it won't be easy.

"I hate to think about it," he said. "You think about No. 22 not being out there. Dexter said his last prayer for us this morning. I'm telling you it was emotional. It really was emotional.

"When Dexter said this morning, ‘thanks for making (football) fun,' they (UM seniors) have made it fun for us," Nutt continued. "But they've made it fun for us because of their attitude. They love football. They love each other. This has been a special two years."

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