NCF Nation: Rebels-Cowboys 010210

A quick look at Ole Miss’ 21-7 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday in the AT&T Cotton Bowl:

How the game was won: Senior running back Dexter McCluster provided all the offense the Rebels needed with 227 all-purpose yards, and they somehow managed to overcome five turnovers. But the difference in this game was an Ole Miss defense that made amends for a subpar performance in the 41-27 loss to Mississippi State in the regular-season finale. Tyrone Nix’s defense held the Cowboys to 255 total yards, came up with a key goal-line stand and scored the clinching touchdown when linebacker Patrick Trahan picked up a fumble and rambled 36 yards with 3:12 to play.

Turning point: With the game tied at 7-7 late in the third quarter, Oklahoma State recovered a Jevan Snead fumble at the Ole Miss 40 and drove it down to the Rebels’ 1. The Cowboys went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but were stuffed by a host of Ole Miss defenders.

Player of the game: McCluster went out in style with 182 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He had an 86-yard scoring jaunt to open the Rebels’ scoring and also scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard scamper out of the Wild Rebel formation. McCluster was sensational during the second half of the season. He’d rushed for 821 yards in his last five SEC games coming into Saturday’s contest.

Stat of the game: The two teams combined for 12 turnovers, and Oklahoma State had six in the fourth quarter.

Stat of the game II: Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead threw three more interceptions and finished the season with 20.

What it means: In winning the Cotton Bowl for the second straight year, the Rebels (9-4) did something they haven’t done since the John Vaught era – win nine or more games in back-to-back seasons. This was a key game for Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt for several different reasons. The Rebels put a happy face on an up-and-down regular season, and by winning a second straight bowl game, he gets out from under the tag he was saddled with at Arkansas of not being able to get it done in the postseason.

Record performance: McCluster became the first player in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards and have 500 receiving yards in the same season.

Instant analysis: Ole Miss 21, Oklahoma State 7

January, 2, 2010
Oklahoma State’s hopes of claiming its first bowl victory since 2007 were undone by an embarrassing rash of fourth-quarter mistakes in the Cowboys’ 21-7 loss to Mississippi in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Here’s a look at what went wrong for the Cowboys and right for the Rebels.

How the game was won: Ole Miss took advantage of six Oklahoma State turnovers on consecutive fourth-quarter possessions to blow the game open. The Rebels got the ball back via interceptions by free safety Kendrick Lewis on consecutive drives, followed by back-to-back fumble recoveries and then interceptions by Patrick Trahan and Fon Ingram during a run in which the Rebels scored the game’s final 14 points.

It’s notable: Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt becomes the first coach to win back-to-back Cotton Bowls since Lou Holtz at Notre Dame in 1993 and 1994.

Turning point: With about 9 minutes remaining in a tie game, OSU had the ball on the Ole Miss 19-yard line and appeared poised to claim the lead. Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerrell Powe looked to have obviously jumped offsides on a snap as he charged past OSU center Andrew Lewis before the snap was completed. Feeling that he had a free play, Robinson threw to the end zone, where he was intercepted by Lewis in the end zone. The Cowboys unraveled from that point in the game.

Player of the game: Oklahoma State’s defense was gearing to stop Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster. And it still didn’t matter. McCluster rushed for 185 yards on 34 carries, including touchdown runs of 86 and 2 yards to account for both of the Rebel’s offensive touchdowns. He also produced five receptions for 45 yards, becoming the first player in Southeastern Conference history to account for 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in the same season.

Unsung hero: Patrick Trahan capped the victory with two pivotal fourth-quarter plays. He recovered a fumble by OSU wide receiver Hubert Anyiam and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown to give the Rebels a 21-7 lead. He then provided an interception on OSU’s next possession to ice the victory.

Stat of the game: The two teams combined for 12 turnovers, but it didn't top the Cotton Bowl record of 13 that was set when Alabama claimed a 29-21 victory over Texas A&M on Jan. 1, 1942.

What it means: Oklahoma State failed to tie a school record with a 10th victory. The Cowboys’ late collapse in the final two games was a disappointment, but OSU overachieved considering their injury and suspension losses over the course of the season. The Cowboys lose key players like Robinson, Russell Okung, Keith Toston, Perrish Cox and starting linebackers Andre Sexton, Donald Booker and Patrick Lavin next season. But they will try to rebuild around a retooled offense that will should be centered around running back Kendall Hunter, who looked to regain his form Saturday after struggling with injuries all season.

Ole Miss didn’t achieve its preseason goal of contending for an SEC championship, but the Rebels claimed back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1959 and 1960. And they likely will have Jevan Snead back for another season as well.