Ole Miss thumps Texas Tech in Cutcliffe's debut
Posted: Saturday January 09, 1999 07:27 PM
SHREVEPORT, La. (CNN/SI) -- When head coaches leave programs for other programs, the NFL, etc., before a bowl game, there is the occasional bad taste left in the mouths of the players and fans, as well as plenty of pressing questions.
Why now? Will they find a quality coach in time? Can he shape up the team and get them ready for the bowl?
David Cutcliffe was definitely in this situation. The former Tennessee offensive coordinator was hired on Dec. 2 to replace Tommy Tuberville, who took off for Auburn.
Thus, Cutcliffe had to learn a whole new set of names as well as try to implement some of his gameplan in just a month's time. Add to the fact that he suffered from an inflamed pancreas in the days leading up to the bowl, and Mississippi's 35-18 drubbing of Texas Tech in the Independence Bowl looks even more amazing.
"This was a little harder than I thought it was going to be to get everything ready," said Cutcliffe.
With only about a dozen pre-bowl workouts, there was not time for a total overhaul of the offense. Instead, the new coaches were forced to learn the system that the Rebels (7-5) had run all season.
The players responded with 355 yards against Tech, which was ranked eighth nationally in total defense (285 yards per game).
Quarterback Romaro Miller, playing for the first time since breaking his collarbone Nov. 21, made it easy for Cutcliffe. He threw an Independence Bowl-record three touchdowns and was 14-of-23 passing for 216 yards while being named the offensive MVP.
"It's OK, it felt good to me," Miller said of his arm. "All week I have been throwing without it hurting. It showed tonight."
Miller is already looking ahead to next season, when Cutcliffe will have his offensive system installed.
"We can come back and do it better next year," said Miller, a sophomore who threw for 2,273 yards in 10 regular-season games.
Cutcliffe, about 20 pounds lighter than when he was hired, became the first Ole Miss coach in 20 years to win his first game. And he did it with a squad with just six seniors.
"I am not tired ... not a bone in my body," Cutcliffe said. "We had a plan from the very first meeting ... and we stuck with that plan."
Deuce McAllister, another sophomore and a 1,000-yard rusher during the regular season, scored three touchdowns. He turned a swing pass from Miller into a 32-yard TD, scored on a 4-yard run and returned a Texas Tech onside kick 43 yards in the final minute.
"We didn't want them to get the ball back. When it short-hopped, I just picked it up and ran," McAllister said.
Ole Miss had clinched the game 30 seconds after Miller's third TD when Anthony Magee intercepted Matt Tittle's pass and returned it to the Texas Tech 31. Eight plays later, McAllister scored on a 4-yard run.
Texas Tech (7-5) got its last score on Kevin McCullar's 14-yard fumble return in the final minute, but Ole Miss responded immediately on McAllister's return of an onside kick.
Ole Miss' first victory since Oct. 31 came less than a month after Cutcliffe was hired to replace Tuberville, who went to Auburn after publicly denying for weeks he was interested in another job.
After starting 6-0 for the first time since 1976, Texas Tech lost five of its last six games and dropped to 5-17-1 in bowl games. The four regular-season losses were by a combined 14 points.
It was only the second meeting between the teams and a rematch of the 1986 Independence Bowl that Ole Miss won 20-17, coincidentally in the coaching debut of Tech coach Spike Dykes.
Miller broke his right collarbone on the final play of a 24-17 loss at Georgia. He had not taken a hit since, but showed early Thursday night that would not be a problem.
After being tackled hard on the third play by All-American defensive end Montae Reagor, who was called for a late hit, Miller got up. Three plays later, he overthrew a receiver with a ball that went almost 50 yards in the air.
"Miller did a great job coming back from his injury. ... He got in a comfort zone and was very poised," said Reagor, limited to a season-low four tackles after having 96 during the regular season.
When Ole Miss drove 75 yards in 11 plays to take a 14-7 lead, it was McAllister doing most of the work. He had eight carries for 32 yards and turned a short swing pass from Miller into a 32-yard TD with 6:04 left in the second quarter.
McAllister, who this season became only the second 1,000-yard rusher in Ole Miss history, finished with 79 yards on 27 carries.
Miller's fumble midway through the first quarter, after being hit by Kris Kocurek, led to Texas Tech's 7-0 lead. Three plays after Ty Ardoin's recovery at the Ole Miss 25, Rob Peters threw a 22-yard TD to Derek Dorris.
Ricky Williams, the other great running back from a Texas school but not the Heisman Trophy winner, was limited to 85 yards on 23 carries after running for 1,582 yards during the regular season.
Ole Miss got even when Miller hit Ken Lucas for a 33-yard TD, one play after a 29-yard punt. The Red Raiders had been pushed back after Peters was sacked by Kendrick Clancy, the defensive MVP.
Texas Tech got within 14-10 when Chris Birkholz kicked a 49-yard field goal with 2:18 left in the first half. The kick, a line drive that barely cleared the crossbar, was the longest by the Red Raiders in 23 postseason games.