Ole Miss' McCluster comes up big for No. 6 Rebels
Friday, September 11 3:34 p.m.
By CHRIS TALBOTT Associated Press Writer
Dexter McCluster is a trend setter.
The diminutive combination player for No. 6 Mississippi continues to showcase a rare combination of speed and elusiveness in coach Houston Nutt's offense.
Line him up at wide receiver, and McCluster runs around defenders.
Line him up at tailback in the I-formation and he fearlessly launches himself into the line where most players are near twice his size.
Line him up at quarterback in the Wild Rebel and he seems to just disappear.
Against Memphis Saturday, the 5-foot-8, 170-pound McCluster had 65 yards receiving, 50 rushing and two touchdowns in the 45-14 victory.
"The guy is really, really hard to tackle," Memphis coach Tommy West said of McCluster. "Well, I tell you what he is - and this is a great compliment to him - when we started our recruiting last year I told all our guys, 'I want a guy like McCluster. I want the guy that everybody worries about being able to tackle.'"
The attention the Largo, Fla., native is getting for his success on the field is a victory for the little guys.
"The big guys better look out because we're taking over soon," the always-smiling McCluster joked. "But no matter the size, when I'm on the field I look like the smallest guy out there to everybody else. But I feel like I'm the same size as everybody on the field.
"They ask me how I do it all the time, and I tell them, 'I've got a heart the size of a lion's and I'm not scared of nothing or nobody.'"
And he plays like it. Rebels offensive coordinator Kent Austin says McCluster is many things crammed into one tiny package.
Austin says he's got quickness, vision, start and stop ability, change of direction, vertical and lateral speed, and the best hands on the team.
"But I think the thing that separates Dexter from guys who are similar to him is just his football intelligence," said Austin, a former Rebels quarterback who led Saskatchewan to CFL titles as both an MVP quarterback and head coach. "What really makes Dexter shine is his understanding conceptually of what we want to do. He's one of the few guys I've ever coached that can literally take a concept off the whiteboard in the classroom and go out on the field and execute it almost to perfection on the first rep. He gets it."
McCluster excells in Nutt's Wild Rebel offense, but the coach says he gets too much credit for a formation that dates back to the early 1900s and is better known as the single wing. But it was Nutt who updated it at Arkansas with Darren McFadden at quarterback.
The formation has swept the college and even NFL ranks and is so effective many wonder why the Rebels don't use it all the time. So do the players.
"If we had a choice, it would probably be ran about every couple of plays," McCluster said. "That's why we're not coaches."
Even with Nutt's attempts to limit its use by peppering it in with the team's regular I-formation offense, defenses are eventually going to figure out how to stop McCluster. Defensive coordinators spent idle time this summer trying to sort it out, after all, and all that study time has to make a difference.
So Austin, Nutt and the Rebels staff also put time into making it better, different, faster and more confusing, though chances are we didn't see much of that in a very vanilla effort against Memphis that involved no passes. And after this week's bye, we're probably not going to see very much new against Southeastern Louisiana.
"That's probably a pretty good assumption," Austin said.
When the Southeastern Conference schedule hits, though, look out. The Rebels have scored a school record 40-plus points in three straight games, were second in the SEC in points per game (32.1) last season and hope to pick up the pace as they chase an SEC West title and a trip to Atlanta.
"You never know what's going to come," McCluster said. "It's funny to hear the defense when we come out there, 'Watch 22! Watch 22!' And sometimes they get so caught up in me, they forget about the other athletes around me, and that just opens up the door to other athletes to make plays."
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