Behind enemy lines… Ole Miss
by Brandon Chatmon
For this bowl edition of Behind Enemy Lines, I did a Q&A with Travis Haney, the South Carolina beat writer who saw Ole Miss’ loss to the Gamecocks early in the season.
Keep two things in mind however, Travis was kind enough to respond to my email quickly so it’s been about a month and a lot (i.e. Perrish Cox missing the game) has changed but it still gives good insight from someone pretty familiar with the Rebels and the SEC.
1. What is Ole Miss biggest strength?
It’s become obvious as the season has gone on that it’s Dexter McCluster. He was being misused early in the year, including the loss at South Carolina. Houston Nutt thought he could play receiver and occasionally in the backfield.
Finally, he got it figured out. Ole Miss’ blocking isn’t anything special, but McCluster makes things happen on his own with speed to the edge of the field. Check McCluster’s fourth-quarter numbers in the South Carolina game. If he’d been running like that all along, the Rebels probably would’ve won here.
2. What is Ole Miss biggest weakness?
It has to be the team’s wide-ranging inconsistency. The Rebels look like the No. 4 team in the country against, say, Tennessee. And then they look like the No. 400 team against Mississippi State. It’s a trend that started early in the season, with that Tennessee trip.
The Rebels were ghastly here. Jevan Snead, even when he had time, was incredibly errant.
It all makes Ole Miss nearly an impossible team to figure out. I suppose if you stop McCluster, you limit its ability to be amazing. Tennessee certainly didn’t bother slowing him down.
3. Where does Dexter McCluster rank compared to all the players you’ve seen this season?
It’s funny. After Mark Ingram gashed the Gamecocks for 246 yards, we asked safety Chris Culliver if that was the best back he’d ever seen. He said no, that McCluster was. He sort of laughed at that, but, a month later, Culliver looked pretty smart.
Again, if McCluster had run the first three quarters like he was allowed to do in the fourth, Ole Miss probably wouldn’t have lost in Columbia.
He’s not at all physical; he’s very small. But he gets to the corner so darned fast. As far as in person, he’d be behind Ingram and Georgia’s A.J. Green. But I’ve watched enough of Ole Miss to know there aren’t many better in the country than him when he’s appropriately used.
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