Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss 21, No. 21 Oklahoma State 7

Thumbs up, down
Thumbs up: Dexter McCluster comes to play, and he was far and away the Rebels’ most productive offensive player against a very good run defense. His 86-yard touchdown run was huge, the game’s only points until deep into the third quarter.
Subtract the long run, and McCluster still had 98 yards, which would have been a season-high in yards allowed for a defense that until Saturday had not given up 100 yards to an opposing back.
Defensively, the Rebels corrected mistakes from their 41-27 loss at Mississippi State in the regular season finale, matching a season-high with seven turnovers forced along the way.
Thumbs down: In spite of the stellar play by the defense, erratic play at QB and missed opportunities on offense nearly cost the Rebels the game.
The Rebels’ usually reliable senior Joshua Shene missed his only two field goal attempts.

Keys to victory
– Reviewing the 3 Keys to Victory in Saturday’s GameDay edition:
Make good decisions at QB:
It only take a few bad decisions to spell disaster. Jevan Snead and Nathan Stanley both made them, resulting in four interceptions thrown.
Snead’s picks were not all the result of bad decisions. At least one was just an inaccurate throw that was tipped and grabbed by the defender.
Run the football: McCluster led the way here with 186 yards. He was such a big part of the run game over the back half of the season it will be like starting from scratch for Ole Miss in 2010.
Slow down the option: Great job here. The Cowboys got nothing done inside. They did get a 46-yard run off the option in the fourth quarter but certainly very little other production over the course of the game.

MVP
Dexter McCluster. He was responsible for all but 7 of the Rebels’ 193 rushing yards and scored their only two touchdowns.

Next up
National Signing Day. The first Wednesday in February will be here before you know it.

Bottom line
– Expectations were higher this year, but the Rebels finished only as good as in 2008. A 9-4 record looks a lot better than 8-5, but the Rebels need to address some issues on offense to be in the mix for a third-straight January bowl a year from now.
Parrish Alford

Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal