Arlington, Texas Before having to figure out life without Dexter McCluster in the backfield, Mississippi coach Houston Nutt was going to use the speedy back as much as possible.
“We knew were going to run his legs off,” Nutt said.
McCluster responded with a finale for Nutt and Ole Miss fans to remember.
In a Cotton Bowl filled with turnovers and missed opportunities by both teams, McCluster was the clear standout in his final game. He carried a career-high 32 times for 182 yards and two touchdowns, including a go-ahead two-yard run on a direct snap with 4:03 left Saturday, and the Rebels beat Oklahoma State, 21-7.
“When I’m in the zone, I’m all business. I want the ball, and I’m going to do whatever I can to make something happen,” McCluster said. “I’m pretty sore. But if we had to play again, I’d get up and go. “
McCluster also had an 86-yard TD run in the second quarter after the senior had already become the first Southeastern Conference player with 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season.
Ole Miss (9-4) had five turnovers in the game, but Oklahoma State had six in the fourth quarter, and seven overall.
The Rebels failed to capitalize on Kendrick Lewis’ two interceptions, but McCluster scored after a fumble to break a 7-7 tie. Patrick Trahan picked up another fumble and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown less than a minute later, then intercepted a deflected fourth-down pass by Oklahoma State’s Zac Robinson on the next drive.
“It’s hard to overcome giving one away,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. “At some point, we’ve got to make some plays. We’ve got to step up.”
The Cowboys (9-4), who like Ole Miss were in the preseason AP Top 10, missed a chance for their first 10-win season since 1988 when Gundy was their starting quarterback. Nutt, also a former Oklahoma State quarterback, was then one of their coaches.
Nutt has led the Rebels to consecutive 9-4 seasons, both capped by victories in the Cotton Bowl, this one played in Cowboys Stadium. Ole Miss had lost all eight of its SEC games in 2007 before Nutt replaced the fired Ed Orgeron.