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Saturday, December 27th, 2008

OLE MISS MEDIA DAY

HEAD COACH HOUSTON NUTT

On being in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic: “The hospitality of the Cotton Bowl and their staff is great. They just do a wonderful job. For our players to experience their first bowl – from fifth-year seniors all the way down – this is an honor and a memory they will never forget. Boy, we’re excited.”

On first bowl week practice Saturday: “You can tell we haven’t practiced in about seven days. We still have a little turkey, a little momma, Christmas, all of that going on. But there toward the end, we picked it up and got a little bit better. Hopefully, we will do a little bit better tomorrow. They moved around good. The effort was there. But you could tell, especially with the skill guys, there was just a little bit of rust there and the wind was blowing pretty good. So we’ve got to do better tomorrow.”

On the effect of a steady, heavy wind: “When you are throwing against the wind, it is obviously very, very tough. There were some gusts up to 25 miles per hour today, maybe 30 miles per hour sometimes. It’s just part of it. Hopefully, it won’t be like that Friday, but you just have to learn how to throw through it. The kicker probably has a little tougher job. … For the skill guys, it just takes a little bit longer to get going.”

On the availability of FB Jason Cook for the game: “He ran around a little bit today. We probably won’t know until later in the week. He had a really tough injury. The ACL was really sprained. He has worked extremely hard. It’s good to see him out there running around and jogging. Hopefully, by the end of the week, we will be able to use him a little bit. We can’t use him the whole game. We know that. But you just love having him around.”

On the challenges faced when first coming to Ole Miss: “When I walked into the room that very first time, I had some good looking athletes. … The biggest challenge we had was that they had experienced very little success the past four years. They didn’t win a conference game last year. They hadn’t been to a bowl game. … The recipe that they had was basically that they were going to play pretty hard, but they were going to find a way to turn it over, find a way to hit somebody in the back, have a penalty at the wrong time and find a way to hurt themselves. … You could see the week before the Florida game that there was a really good focus, but deep down I don’t know if they believed we could go beat Florida. But all of a sudden we get to The Swamp and you’re in the third quarter, going into the fourth quarter. They have not turned the ball over all year long. They give up three. We’ve been turning the ball over all year long, and we didn’t fumble, didn’t throw interceptions the second half. That game really helped us with confidence. Since the Arkansas game on Oct. 25, we’ve taken off.”

On his confidence in the Ole Miss defensive backs to make plays against Texas Tech: “That’s the thing that concerns you the most. I don’t think their quarterback (Graham Harrell) has been sacked but eight times. And then the receivers they have are just outstanding. They’re strong and big. They understand the system and know what Coach (Mike) Leach wants. … They know what they’re doing. They execute. The quarterback gets rid of the ball. They have screens. They can run the ball, too. They have tremendous weapons, they execute at such a high level and then their defense is underrated. You can easily see why they are ranked where they are.”

On the threat that WR Dexter McCluster brings to the Ole Miss offense: “Dexter is a special person. He’s not too tall, but his heart is bigger than the stadium. He’s a tough guy. He has such good hands. We let him operate out of the Wild Rebel because of the ball-handling skills he has. … He can run it. He can throw it. As small as he is, he can get lost in there behind some linemen and then find a crease with a quick first step. Dexter has been a big-play guy for us.”

On using the Wild Rebel as an offensive formation: “Darren McFadden and Felix Jones really took this formation to a new level at Arkansas. The formation has probably been there since Pop Warner. What you are looking for is a chance to give the defense a change, give them a knuckleball, give them something different. Defenses are so good and so fast these days. … We’re looking for an athlete who can handle things. Dexter McCluster has all of that. It has been very valuable for us. Sometimes we don’t use it as much as in other games. But the times we have won big games, you can always go back and see where this was a formation that really made things happen for us.”

On his 2-5 record as a head coach in bowl games: “Look at who you play. It wasn’t like we were playing Sisters of the Poor (when Nutt was head coach at Arkansas). You’re playing Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma. You’re playing real clubs. … When you don’t play in a month, that’s what’s difficult. … It’s a fun week. But that’s the thing you have to manage. … When you are playing on Jan. 1 or Jan. 2, it’s not easy.”

On what this team has meant to him personally: “This has been one of the greatest years of life and coaching that we’ve ever had. … It’s a great place to live. Great tradition. A school that has won a lot of championships. … There are some young men with great character on our team. We hold them accountable. … They have meant so much to my family from the very first time they came to my house. … There’s nothing like going to war with these guys. It’s a relationship. It has been awesome. What a year for coaching, living, just to see their excitement. It has been a joy.”

On the performance of Tyrone Nix as defensive coordinator: “Ty is a competitor. He’s a ferocious competitor. … I always felt his competitive spirit from the other side. You see his fight. You see his spirit. It’s about moving and inspiring an 18-year-old. And most of them haven’t had a daddy. He’s really, really good at what he does. … He knows when to jump on them. He knows when to pull off. He knows all of that.”

QB JEVAN SNEAD

On Saturday’s practice: “The wind didn’t help us much. It wasn’t our best outing. But we had a decent first day. The wind was worse at times than at others. I’m not used to wind like this anymore, but I guess I will get used to it this week.”

On playing near his hometown of Stephenville, Texas: “I was extremely excited about coming back to Texas and playing in my home state. We’re only about an hour and half from my hometown. … It’s a good feeling to have people from back home here at practice. It’s a great spot to be in. … I had a great high school coach (Chad Morris) who is actually here today.”

On the challenges posed by Texas Tech: “They’re a great team offensively and defensively. They have a lot of great players. I’m just excited to get to play them.”

WR SHAY HODGE

On what it means to the Ole Miss program to be in the Cotton Bowl: “It means a lot because we haven’t been to a bowl game. We’re trying to climb up and be one of those programs that go to a bowl game every year.”

On Saturday’s practice: “We didn’t accomplish as much as we wanted to. It’s awfully windy. We’ve got to get the rust off.”

OL MICHAEL OHER

On being in the Cotton Bowl: “We haven’t been in a bowl in five years, so the Cotton Bowl is extremely special to Ole Miss. Tech has a great defensive line. And they have a great coach. They remind me a little of South Carolina’s defense. But if we come to play and execute, we can score on them. Everybody just has to get the rust off and get back to where we were the final few weeks of the season.”

DT PERIA JERRY

On defending Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell: “He is a player who can make you miss. It has to be all of the defensive linemen working together.”

On the wide splits used by the Texas Tech offensive line: “Last year we played Missouri and they used the wide splits. But that doesn’t really matter. It’s about executing and getting after the quarterback.”

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR KENT AUSTIN

On what it means to make the Cotton Bowl in the first year for this coaching staff: “It means quite a bit to us. We’re privileged and honored to be here. Our guys are excited about being here. We’re excited about what we have accomplished. We know there is a challenge ahead of us. But this is a great step forward for our program.”

On Saturday’s practice: “There was quite a bit of rust. We hope to get some good practice time in and get our timing back. We should be OK with a few more practices.”

On the Texas Tech defense: “They make you execute on offense. They don’t take a lot of chances on defense. But what they do, they do well. They’re well-coached. We need to control the line of scrimmage. When we throw the ball, we need to make yards after the catch against these guys.”
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