OXFORD – Dexter McClutster harbored no ill feelings for former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron, but he wasn’t going to let him leave Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a win, either.
McCluster set a school record with 282 rushing yards, the most allowed by the Tennessee defense in 113 years of Volunteers football, and the Rebels (7-3, 3-3 SEC) became bowl eligible with a 42-17 thrashing of one of the SEC’s top defenses.
A Vaught-Hemingway Stadium crowd of 61,422, the stadium’s fourth-largest, watched McCluster score on runs of 15, 23, 32 and 71 yards.
The Wild Rebel formation was the most potent its been since the 2008 season, most often with McCluster at the wheel.
He also caught four passes and finished with a school record 324 all-purpose yards.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt had an idea McCluster was poised for a big day when he stood up Friday night and challenged his teammates.
“I’m not one to get up and talk in front of a lot of people, but I felt the need to stand up,” McCluster said. “I told them we were in a position to win out, and I challenged the offensive players to give 100 percent of every play. If we do that we can’t be stopped.”
Nutt says he tries to manage the touches for the 170-pound McCluster and gave it to him 29 times Saturday inside and outside.
The Vols defense had not allowed three offensive touchdowns by an SEC opponent. The Rebels had that in the first half. They finished with six touchdowns, a season-high allowed by Tennessee.
“McCluster set the school record for rushing yards, and we probably set the school record for missed tackles,” Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin said.
Kiffin then looked at Orgeron, his defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, and said, “Go get us one of those.”
Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead completed 13-of-20 passes for 133 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
The Rebels finished with 359 rushing yards and 492 yards of total offense. Tennessee (5-5, 2-4 SEC) began the day No. 3 in the SEC in run defense, allowing just 119 yards a game and third in the SEC, 16th in the nation in total defense, giving up 295.1 yards.
McCluster had a revamped offensive line to run behind. Freshman Bobby Massie, after a strong performance last week against Northern Arizona, started at right tackle. Senior John Jerry moved over and started at right guard.
The added bulk made it harder for the Vols to see McCluster, and that came into play early in the fourth quarter on a 71-yard run.
“That play is designed to get 4 yards,” Nutt said. “When he got 4 yards I was excited. When he got lost behind Jerry, and they couldn’t find him, I was really excited. And then I love Dexter against a free safety, because he’s probably going to make him miss.”
In a 28-17 game the Ole Miss defense forced a punt after ends Emmanuel Stephens and Kentrell Lockett combined for a sack of Vols quarterback Jonathan Crompton. The Rebels were at their 29 when McCluster ran right, bounced outside to the left sideline, then ran almost the width of the field to elude the last Vols defender and score in the right corner of the end zone.
“Coach Nutt told me to lock up and get the first down, but I saw the hole outside and said, ‘Why stop now?’ ” McCluster asked.
Brandon Bolden scored the Rebels’ other touchdowns on runs of 1 and 4 yards. He finished with 46 yards on 11 carries.
Crompton was 20-for-37 for 176 yards and scoring passes of 16 and 25 yards.
UT’s Montario Hardesty, the SEC’s fourth-leading rusher, was held to 55 yards on 14 carries, as the Vols rushed for 99 yards.
Tennessee had total 275 yards, much of it coming late against an Ole Miss prevent defense.
The Rebels knew midweek they’d be without injured sack leader Greg Hardy. On Friday, starters Lockett and Patrick Trahan turned up with an illness and a foot problem. Both played and contributed in the game.
“The heart of our defense was awesome,” Nutt said. “And we were able to get Dexter in behind our linemen. We were able to get him to the second level of their defense.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal