94 percent of those polled said we couldn’t do it. We did.
Ole Miss wasn’t expected to do much headed into the 2008 season with a new coach (Houston Nutt) and a team that went 3-9 the year before. There was a lot of uncertainty around the talent level on the team and how quickly they would be able to buy in. The worries around the team were heightened in Week 2 when the team lost to Wake Forest, despite good quarterback play by Jevan Snead.
After beating Samford in week three, the team lost to Vanderbilt, and I clawed my eyes out. It seemed they were destined for another terrible season. Then they beat a Tim-Tebow- led No. 4 Florida. The Rebels would finish the regular season on a five-game winning streak culminating in a 45-0 win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, which was ... pretty fun.
When the bowl decisions were announced, the Rebels had the unenviable task of playing in the Cotton Bowl against 11-1 Texas Tech, a team whose only loss had come at the hands of Sam Bradford and Oklahoma.
Who were these Red Raiders?
The team from Lubbock featured Mike Leach’s epic air raid passing attack in its heyday. Quarterback Graham Harrel held eight NCAA records for passing. He was a dominant college quarterback who threw the ball nearly every down and with lots of success. He finished fourth in Heisman polling after passing for 646 yards against Oklahoma State alone.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree won the Biletnikoff award, given to college football’s best receiver. Crabtree caught 22 touchdowns as a freshman and 19 as a sophomore. While he hadn’t matched his freshman season’s 1,962 receiving yards, he was incredibly dangerous and very difficult to cover.
Tech also sported a second-team All-Big 12 running back in Shannon Woods. Despite limited rushing attempts as a team, Woods managed 1,113 yards from scrimmage and 14 scores thanks to his contribution through the air. With all the weapons Tech put onto the field at the same time, teams were often left defending against Woods with players who were mismatched in their efforts to contain a good receiving threat out of the backfield.
On top of all the skill players, Texas Tech boasted four offensive linemen who made one of the All-Big 12 teams. These linemen also put facepaint on that was really badass and not at all stupid and childish. Their offense was absolutely magnificent.
Defensively, the Red Raiders had two first-team All-Big 12 safeties and five other players who made various All-Big 12 teams. The defense wasn’t the equivalent of the offense, but it was pretty good too.
Tech jumped out to an early lead.
The Red Raiders, the favorites going into the game, quickly got to a 14-0 first quarter lead behind a strong offensive first drive and a 45-yard interception return for touchdown. The Rebels were in a tough spot and hadn’t shown a lot of life up to that point.
With one minute remaining in the first frame, however, the Rebels came alive, scoring 24 points before halftime. With a three point lead going into the half, safety Kendrick Lewis managed to bring down Harrell just before the goal line after a 50+ yard run as time expired.
Tech was entirely unprepared for what was about to befall them. The Rebels opened the second half with a 65-yard interception return of their own at the hands of Marshay Green, and Tech never managed to get back into it, ultimately losing 47-34 thanks to a garbage time touchdown to make it look closer than it was. Dexter McCluster was named the Cotton Bowl MVP with 180 total yards of offense.
An internet poll before the game (ultra official of course) had 94 percent of respondents saying Tech would win. Those people, it turns out, were a bunch of dumb-dumbs.