After racking up 821 rushing yards in the last six games of the regular season, senior do-it-all athlete Dexter McCluster entered Saturday's matchup with No. 21 Oklahoma State needing only 15 more yards to become the fourth back in Ole Miss history to surpass 1,000 yards on the ground.
Even more, he was also vying to become the first player in SEC history to total 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season.
Though a drastic understatement, McCluster didn't disappoint in the 74th annual AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
"To be the only player in the SEC to have over a thousand yards rushing and over 500 yards receiving, there's been nobody else," said Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt of McCluster. "Bo Jackson, I'm talking about great players in this league. He's the only one. But this is why he's so special, because this guy has done something. His heart is bigger than (Cowboy Stadium). I promise you."
For the day, McCluster logged 212 all-purpose yards in his final collegiate action. He did most of his damage on the ground, 182 yards on a career-high 32 carries. A touchdown run of 86 yards in the second quarter was a career long, and the second-longest in Cotton Bowl history.
"Coach Nutt knows I can make plays happen," said McCluster, his 1,167 yards on the year the second-highest rushing total in school history. "I come in with a mindset as I'm not going to worry about the (opponent's) defense. I want them to worry about me. Coach Nutt has that faith in me to go out there and get the job done."
And unsurprisingly, McCluster was a unanimous Offensive MVP selection, his second in back-to-back Classic appearances. The only other player to do the same was SMU's Doak Walker in 1948 and 1949.
"He's just been a tremendous help for our offense," said junior quarterback Jevan Snead, who struggled on the day with 13-of-23 passing for 168 yards and three interceptions. "He's been the spark for our offense. We relied on him and he's fought through everything we've wanted him to do. He's a heck of a player. Anytime the ball gets in his hands, it's likely to be a big play."
Few players ever reach legendary status at a given university. When driving down the Ole Miss campus, the speed limit is 18 miles per hour in honor of Rebel great Archie Manning. Eli Manning and Deuce McAllister are each held in high regard in Faulkner country.
But with a brilliant career to his credit, McCluster could very well see his jersey hung high in the rafters of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. And who knows? Maybe the university changes the speed limit to 22 in the near future.
"I always dreamt of coming in and being an SEC running back," said McCluster, as he looked toward his head coach during postgame interviews. "A lot of people said I couldn't do it. I want to thank you for that."
"You're welcome," said Nutt, with a mixture of laughter and applause filling the room. "We knew we were going to run his legs off today. It's our last game together. We were going to run his legs off."
McCluster Makes History
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