Vols Get McClustered, 42-17
But above all, appreciate the performer you saw on the field, even though he wore blue and gray.
Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster carried the ball 25 times. He gained 282 yards. That’s an average of over 11 yards a carry.
He scored 4 TDs on runs of 15, 23, 32, and 77 yards.
He also gained 42 yards on 4 pass receptions. That’s 324 all-purpose yards.
Dexter broke the all-time Ole Miss records for most rushing yards in a game (formerly 242 yards by Dou Innocent in 1995) and most all-purpose yards in a game (formerly 317 yards by Deuce McAllister in 1999).
If Ole Miss had been playing anybody else, that would have been exciting to watch. Another performance showing the excitement of college football.
But it was against the Vols. And it was the most rushing yards ever given up by Tennessee to an opposing rusher. Ever. He busted it by 65 yards, formerly co-held by Mike Prichard (Colorado 1990) and Bobby Humphrey (Alabama 1986), both with 217 yards. And according to Knoxville’s Jimmy Hyams on the radio, McCluster became only the second opponent to rush for 4 TDs against Tennessee, equaling the mark of Southern Cal great Marcus Allen back in 1981.
Oh, and Dexter McCluster’s 282 rushing yards on Saturday were more yards gained on the ground than any team against the Vols this season.
A humbling end to a very bad week.
WARNING: After the jump, there are a lot of photographs of Dexter McCluster enjoying open-field running.
Ole Miss Come Out Swinging
McCluster’s first score was on the Rebels opening drive. After Tennessee’s kickoff went out of bounds on the Rebel 10 untouched, Ole Miss began their first drive on their own 42. Beautiful field position if you like red, blue and gray. After two pass gains of 5 and 18 yards, and a rush by Jesse Grandy for 22 yards, the Rebs had the ball first-and-ten at the Vol 13. Fourth play of the drive, McCluster took the handoff on a straight draw right up the middle, and after only a minute and a half, Ole Miss had a stunning, quick lead. Ole Miss 7 Tennessee 0.
Tennessee tied the game late in the first quarter, aided by a nice 24-yard run by Montario Hardesty down the left sideline and amplified by an Ole Miss late hit out-of-bounds. Then, Jonathan Crompton threw a perfect pass over the middle to his TE Cottam running a slight slant/post pattern for the score. Ole Miss 7 Tennessee 7. When the Rebs got the ball back, they mixed the pass and the run, including a 20-yard rush by McCluster, until they had the ball at the Vol 23 on second down. Out of the Rebel Formation, Dexter broke loose down the left sideline and ended up in the Vol endzone. Tennessee had no answer for McCulster’s speed around the corner. Ole Miss 14 Tennessee 7.
Tennessee tied the game once again on a drive relying mostly on the run. Jonathan Crompton ended the possession by hitting Vol WR Denarius Moore in the Reb endzone on one of the prettiest plays you’ll ever see. Just after passing his way past QB Bobby Scott on the all-time Vol passing yardage list, the ever-improving senior QB sold the play beautifully, ball on the Reb 25, with a play-action fake to his RB and lofted one of those delicate passes just long enough to Denarius Moore in the end zone. Didn’t try to hit him on the run, but Jonathan just got the ball to his receiver. Beautiful. Ole Miss 14 Tennessee 14.
That was pretty much the end of anything beautiful in orange the rest of the afternoon. Back to the Dexter McCluster show…
The sign of a winner: when punched, punch back.
With the ball on their own 25. McCluster runs for 15, then no gain. After Jevan Snead converts a QB sneak on 4th and 1, Dexter runs for 14 and sidekick Brandon Bolden gets 3 to the Vol 32. Once again, out of the Rebel Formation, Dexter just seems to effortlessly run around his left end, and following his blockers adeptly, waltzes into the Tennessee end zone for his 3rd TD of the morning afternoon. 6:59 left in the first half – Dexter McCluster has 126 yards rushing. Ole Miss 21 Tennessee 14.
Opportunities Lost for Both Sides
Near the end of the first half, Ole Miss looked like they would put Tennessee in a very deep, two-TD hole. Starting a drive at the Vol 39 (Tennessee punted on 4th and 17 at their own 14), McCluster took the drive’s opening play right up the middle for a 16-yard gain. He now has out-gained the Vols’ offense by 50 yards. Then another McCluster run for 13 yards gives the Rebs 1st and 10 at the Vol 11. But inexplicably, Ole Miss goes pass. First one hits the Vol DB’s shoulder. The next one is a high floater to the left pylon that has every duck hunter in northern Mississippi salivating. Dropped (barely). Third down sees a badly thrown ball to Dexter all alone in the left flat. Well, the Rebs will have to settle on a 28-yard FG and only a 10-point lead. Except that kicker Joshua Shene misses wide-right by a foot. Huge opportunity lost.
Vols fortunately are only down by 7 at the half.
Tennessee starts the second half brightly and makes you think we’re in this for the long haul to trade punches with Ole Miss and last man standing wins. Crompton hits receivers for 18, 14, and 7 yard gains, and the Vols have it second and three at the Ole Miss 5 yard line. But Montario Hardesty is stuffed at the line of scrimmage by the hearty Reb front for a 5-yard loss, and Crompton throws an incomplete pass when hurried by Emmanuel Stephens. So Tennessee settles for the field goal the Rebs couldn’t. Daniel Lincoln hits a 27-yarder to get the Vols within 4. Big opportunity lost. Ole Miss 21 Tennessee 17.
When Ole Miss get back possession on the kickoff, they give it right back. Jevan Snead throws it right at Vol DL Wes Brown who is practically standing on top of (presumably) an Ole Miss receiver. This is the play the Vols desperately needed. Vols have it 1st and 10 at the Ole Miss 43. But, another opportunity lost. Tennessee can’t get a first down when on 4th and 2, Crompton makes his only bad throw of the afternoon, horribly delivering the ball far behind Denarius Moore who had found a seem over the middle. Another opportunity lost.
Now it’s time to see if Ole Miss can deliver a fatal blow. The Rebs put on a drive, relying almost entirely on their RB duo of McCluster and Bolden. Now, with the ball first-and-goal on the Vol 2 yard line, the Rebs shoot their own foot with a delay of game penalty, pushing it back to the seven. But enter McCluster. He takes a pitch on an option play to the right and when seemingly stopped for no gain near the right sideline, he fights free and somehow squiggles through to the Vol one yard line. An incredible play of self-effort (although I could swear his left knee was down back at about the five, but no squawking by anybody). Bolden then carries it into the Vol endzone to give the Rebs a pretty large-feeling 11-p0int edge. Ole Miss 28 Tennessee 17.
Now it’s the Ole Miss vaunted defense to put another nail in the Vol coffin. After a drive-opening completed pass to Gerald Jones for a 9-yard gain, Hardesty is met behind the line by Kentrell Lockett for a 3-yard loss. The third quarter ends, and so does the drive, when Emmanuel Stevens lays a sack on Jonathan Crompton for an 8-yard loss, forcing the Vols to punt the ball to the Rebs.
Down 11, with a quarter to go, I’m thinking two things: (1) How can we score (at least) two TDs with the Reb defense tightening, and (2) how can we stop Dexter McClester? The answer is we can’t.
Great moments in sport sometimes happen against you. It challenges you to appreciate such moments when they happen in such circumstances.
On the first play of the drive at the Ole Miss 29, Dexter McCluster took the handoff straight into the center of the line. He seemingly got lost (he’s pretty small at 5’9″, 170 lbs). He was Houdini in that steel box wrapped in chains locked at the bottom of a water-filled chamber. But after deflecting off of the left hip of a Reb lineman, he seemed to squirt out of the mass of players like a watermelon seed spit out of someone’s mouth. Finding himself in his element – open field – he turned on the jets and raced for the left sideline. But being the smart runner he is, instead of trying to get too greedy, he shifted direction to his right and raced for the right side of the end zone. A 71-yard TD run, but really a 100+ yard run for the ages of Ole Miss football history, giving their over-hyped season new life and a date on New Year’s Day a distinct possibility. Ole Miss 35 Tennessee 17.
Stunning. Exhilarating. Humiliating.
All at once.
More of the Same
Well, what’s a good ass-whipping without more ineptitude with our kicking game? The Vols got the ball back on the kickoff, and after getting some momentum on the ensuing drive, things stall out and Tennesse has to settle for a 45-yard FG attempt by Daniel Lincoln. BLOCKED! The ball, if it had not been blocked by an Ole Miss lineman, surely would have hit a Vol OL in the back of his helmet, for Daniel Lincoln’s kick was once again dreadfully low.
The game whimpered away. But it ended with a scary moment. With Ole Miss in possession on the Vol 4, 2nd and goal, Vol LB LaMarcus Thompson is wrestled to the ground, his right shoulder and/or head driven into the artificial turf. When the trainers get to him on the field, he is moving both legs back and forth quickly, obviously in great discomfort. But he wasn’t moving his shoulders or head. Strange look. Minutes go by. Paramedics on the field. They cut LaMarcus’ face mask off, strap him to a gurney, and put him on a motorized cart and wheel him to the locker room. As he was he was being wheeled off, he gave a left thumb up salute to indicate at least he thought he was going to be OK. Courtesy of Joel over at RTT, a tweet from Wes Rucker of the Chattanooga Times Free Press relayed Lane Kiffin’s description of the injury as “another shoulder stinger” and “they think he’ll be OK.”
The game had to end. The Vols defense barely lined up for the next play, perhaps a bit stunned after the sight of the injury. Brandon Boldon waltzed into the end zone via the right side to put the Vols out of their misery. Ole Miss 42 Tennessee 17.
A thoroughly disappointing ending to an absolutely beautiful Autumn afternoon.
All times Eastern. 2009 opponents in bold.
- Kentucky 24 Vanderbilt 13
- UAB 31 Memphis 21
- Florida 24 South Carolina 14
- Western Kentucky 18 Louisiana-Monroe 21
- UCLA 43 Washington State 7
- Auburn 24 Georgia 31
- Alabama 31 Mississippi State 3
- Ohio: BYE WEEK