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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It may have been a surprise to most of the country.
|Vladimir Cherry/US Presswire|
|Texas Tech didn't have any answers for Jevan Snead, who threw for a career-high 292 yards and three TDs in the Cotton Bowl.|
But Mississippi might have proved a point about Southeastern Conference domination and the fallacy of Big 12 defenses when it lined up and whipped Texas Tech in the trenches to claim a convincing 47-34 victory in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
And the score might not have done justice to just how overpowering the Rebels' performance was. After spotting Tech a 14-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game, the Rebels blew the game open by erupting for 38 of the next 45 points.
The 30,000 Mississippi fans who attended the final Cotton Bowl game were doing the singing at the end, serenading the Red Raiders with chants of "overrated" and "SEC! SEC!"
It would be hard to argue with them after Tech's uninspired bowl performance, which put a sour ending to a 11-2 season which began with 10 straight victories.
After the early struggles, Mississippi's underrated offense took control and kept the ball for most of the first half. It paid dividends in the second half when a gasping Tech defense down several starters in the secondary simply couldn't keep up with the Rebels.
Tech's struggles were understandable considering starting cornerback L.A. Reed didn't dress due to an arm injury. Darcel McBath was removed for much of the game because of a hamstring injury. And Jamar Wall left the field limping in the first half.
McBath snagged his seventh interception of the year (tied for most in the country) and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown, which boosted Tech's early lead to 14-0. But his replacement, Jordy Rowland, was blistered after McBath was hobbled.
It paved the way for elusive Dexter McCluster to have a career game with 98 rushing yards and a team-best 83 receiving yards. Quarterback Jevan Snead did the rest as the Rebels seemingly gained confidence after their early struggles to convert five third downs in the first half -- leading to three touchdown drives -- that shifted the game's momentum.
The struggling performance ended the record-setting career of Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, and likely will be Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree's last game.
Harrell passed for a Cotton Bowl record 358 yards and four touchdowns, becoming the first player in college history to top 5,000 yards in two different seasons. And his touchdown binge enabled him to claim the FBS career record with 133 touchdown passes, jumping past Colt Brennan's previous record of 131.
But he also threw two interceptions caused by a relentless Mississippi blitzing defense. Rebels defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix repeatedly tormented Harrell with those blitzes, which came shooting through the Red Raiders' wide offensive splits.
The Rebels also did a strong job of tackling, keeping Tech from turning short passes into long gains. In fact, the longest Tech play of the game was a 44-yard scramble by Harrell on the last play of the first half that ended just short of the Mississippi end zone. Tech had only two passes of 20 yards or more.
That defensive pressure appeared to discombobulate the Red Raiders. That was best illustrated midway through the third quarter when Harrell unsuccessfully tried a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-4 in Tech territory. The play came up more than two yards short after a rare Red Raiders defensive stand had given them some momentum.
Crabtree was hobbled by an ankle injury that plagued him for most of the second half. He produced three catches in the first half, but only one after that and finished with a career-low 30 receiving yards.
Tech's struggling performance casts doubt on the Big 12's credibility, despite record-breaking offenses which piled up yards and points all season. It will be up to BCS participants Texas and Oklahoma to reclaim some of that respect in the conference's remaining bowl games.