This bowl game is all about the turn-around from the 2007 season to the 2008 season. Ole Miss won three games in 2007, winless in the SEC and the guys just looked snake bit.
There were times in the 2006-2007 seasons where I wondered if the guys were somehow sabotaging any chance they had to win games.
They really did not know how to win. They had not been to a bowl since Eli Manning’s senior year where the team won 10 games. That success seamed so long ago.
Say what you will about Houston Nutt in 2010, but in 2008 he helped these guys filp a switch and won the last six games on the schedule, reaching nine wins overall with five in the league.
To put this in perspective, a six game swing from 2007 to 2008 was the biggest turnaround at Ole Miss since heroic coach Johnny Vaught’s debut in 1947. Now, I’m not saying Nutt is a Vaught type coach. The credit should mostly go to the players recruited under former Coach Ed Orgeron.
Guys like Mike Oher, Peria Jerry, Marshay Green, Dexter McCluster, Brandon Bolden, Mike Wallace and Jevan Sneed. With a little help from an experienced SEC head coach they were able to figure out what they were good at and they discovered the kind of effort it took on both offense and defense to win in the SEC and they stormed through the 2008 schedule and also blew away a top 10 Big 12 opponent too.
In 2008, Texas Tech featured arguably the best coach and QB-WR combo in the nation. Offensive genius head coach Mike Leach boasted QB Graham Harrell and future NFL WR Michael Crabtree to the best season ever in Red Raider history as they entered the Cotton Bowl with 11 wins.
The TV coverage by Pat summrall and Brian Baldinger of Fox Sports, focused on this “un-stoppable” duo, comparing Harrell and Crabtree to Montana and Rice. While that would be hard billing to live up to, Coach Mike Leach had proven his prowess by taking his teams to a bowl game in nine straight years. His offenses average over 400 yards passing per game.
Ole Miss was not scared of the Big 12. They had already beat the eventual national champion Tim Tebow AT Florida earlier in the year and they knew they could beat anyone that stepped on the field.
Olemiss even won the coin toss and elected to start first on offense.
Coach Mike Leach was quoted in pre-game, “Olemiss is really a good team. They beat Florida, the defensive front is good, an unorthodox offense that gets the ball in everyone’s hands, barely lost to bama. I’m excited to play them.” He was asked if he has any tricks up his sleeve, “Not today, we may need some.”
For the first couple of possessions, Ole Miss sputtered while Tech came out on fire. After three possessions, Ole Miss had one punt, one fumble and one interception and Tech was leading 14-nothing. Yet, the guys didn’t get down, they just leaned on McCluster.
Dexter was such a weapon for this team. He never got tired, he could run through the line, catch the ball like a wide receiver, and so dangerous on sweeps and screens. All he needed was a flash of daylight and he was gone.
And if a defense focuses on Dex too much, there is Mike Wallace running with 4.3 speed down the side line on a post pattern, which is what happened on Ole Miss’ fourth possession. Wallace helped carry Ole Miss across the 50 yard line, then the “Wild Rebel” offense began to pick up some steam as a double reverse got the guys in the red zone, a direct snap to McCluster and a touchdown reception by tight en Gerald Harris put the Rebels on the score board, trailing 7-14.
While Ole Miss was getting into the game, one key to slowing down this Tech offense was the tweaking of Crabtree’s ankle. He sprained his ankle against Kansas earlier in the season on a 50 yards kickoff return, then a sick fake move he put on a Texas defender to beat the then no. 1 ranked Longhorns hurt it again.
He was not completely healthy and close to the end of the first quarter Crabtree limped off the field.
Without Tech’s star WR a lot of Harrell’s passes went incomplete or out of bounds. Crabtree was certainly not someone you can replace so quickly.
Jevan Sneed and Wallace again took advantage of the situation. On Ole Miss fifth possession, Sneed threw a pass into double coverage down the middle of the field which Wallace caught with his knees for a touchdown, a sensational catch. The game was now tied at 14 and all the momentum was on Ole Miss’ side.
Running back Shannon Woods and the underneath passing game got the ball inside the Ole Miss 10 yard line and even though Michael Crabtree was hobbled he could still handle a one on one jump ball and put the Red Raiders up again 21-14.
While Ole Miss was frustrated at not being able to get a stop against this Big 12 high powered offense, Big 12 defenses are notoriously weak, and Tech was no match for the “Wild Rebel” offense. A steady diet of Brandon Bolden and Dexter McCluster softened up the secondary until Snead again found Wallace in the red zone and another tight end pass to Harris ties the game at 21.
This is going to be a high scoring game it seems. Good for TV.
Finally the Rebel defense slows Harrell down as Cassius Vaught intercepted him late in the second quarter setting up a field goal to put Ole Miss up 24-21 at the half.
This would be the last game in the original Cotton Bowl stadium and the fans got to see a great game. Famous for speaking in two word sentences, Ole Miss’ Coach was quoted on the way to the locker room, “(we need) 30 more minutes. One play at a time. Don’t turn the ball over. Can’t help em. Love the way our guys fought. Fought hard.”
The halftime stats reveal that Ole Miss was dominating the game. Total yards for Ole Miss, 337 to Tech’s 247 tech; Ole Miss 1st downs 17 to 12 for Tech and time of possession was 20.04 minutes for the Rebels and 9.56 for Mike Leach’s Red Raiders.
Leach was obviously disappointed at the half but it was not uncommon for this defense to give up a lot of yards. His quote at the half was, “(we need to) execute, play this game like our practices, don’t think about it too much.”
Crabtree’s injury just proved to be too much for Leach to overcome. On an out route planned for Crabtree was intercepted as he slipped and fell on the turf. Cornerback Marshay Green was there and took the ball to the house and put Ole Miss ahead for good 31 to 21.
The next time Ole Miss got the ball McCluster helped move the ball in to the Tech red zone and Brandon Bolden bullied his way right up the middle of the Tech defense for an authoritative touchdown and the Reb’s are up 38-21.
Graham Harrell and the running backs put up two more scores in the fourth, Dexter McCluster put in his touchdown and a landshark safety by Marshay Green saw the scoreboard read 47 to 34 at the end of the game.
Nutt was certainly the happiest guy on the field at the end of the game. Should I say, “giggity” even?
He was quoted by ESPN, “I wish we could keep this team and bring it back.” Coach Houston Nutt said. He then turned to the seniors and barked, “You can’t leave!”
Red Raiders Head Coach Mike Leach said, “They’re an incredibly good football team. You have to fight very precisely in order to beat them.”
Tech QB, Graham Harrell, set a new Cotton Bowl record of 364 yards passing and four touchdowns. He also finished the season as the NCAA all-time career leader in touchdown passes (134) and the first player ever with multiple 5,000 yard seasons. “We would have liked to have finished on a better note. It was still a very fun season,” Graham said.
Houston Nutt prophetically told the Cotton Bowl officials after the game to go ahead and mark it down, “We’ll come back next year.” And he was correct. The Ole Miss team did make it back to Dallas after the 2009 season to beat up on another Big 12 team.
I think it’s about time that Ole Miss gets back to Dallas in 2014!