Mountaineers led 49-9 at one point
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- West Virginia coach Don Nehlen went out
The Mountaineers carved up the Mississippi defense for three quarters, built a 49-9 lead and held on for a 49-38 victory in the Music City Bowl on Thursday.
It closed Nehlen's 21-year career in Morgantown on a high note, and ended one of his most exasperating streaks: The Mountaineers had lost eight straight bowl games.
"We're pleased as the devil to have won. We've had a long dry spell," Nehlen said. "If nothing else, the jokes will disappear in Morgantown for a while. This game was something."
It was especially something for Brad Lewis, who threw five
touchdown passes. He had eight during the regular season.
"We knew coming in that Ole Miss played a lot of man-to-man and we knew that with Khori Ivy, Antonio Brown and our tight ends that they couldn't match up with our speed," Lewis said.
Nehlen has tried for a month to deflect attention from his
impending retirement, but failed even with his players.
"Coach told us all week don't win for him, win for ourselves," said Brown, who had two touchdown catches. "But deep down in our hearts we knew we were going to win this for the coach."
Mississippi coach David Cutcliffe said Nehlen did more than just get his guys emotionally excited.
"I'm sure they played with great emotion, but they executed
extremely well, about as well as any offensive team I've seen in
quite some time," Cutcliffe said. "That's a tribute to Don Nehlen
and his staff. Those guys were toned up and ready to go."
West Virginia's victory keeps the Big East Conference's record perfect against the Southeastern Conference in the three years of the bowl game.
West Virginia (7-5) dominated the first three quarters and built a 49-9 lead before the Rebels (7-5) rallied behind Eli Manning to make it respectable.
The Mississippi fans among the crowd of 47,119 who stayed until
the end had to be heartened by the performance of Manning, the
redshirt freshman son of Archie Manning and brother of Peyton
Manning, who threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter,
the first of his career.
But by then Lewis and the Mountaineers had gotten too far away.
Lewis was perfect in the first half, when he completed all seven
of his passes for 216 yards and four touchdowns. He set up another
score as West Virginia took a 35-9 halftime lead, and finished with
318 passing yards.
"I don't think we've ever had a quarterback with a better
half," Nehlen said. "I've never seen our offense execute that
Any hopes the Rebels had of seizing momentum in the second half
were damaged when Shawn Terry returned the second-half kickoff 99
yards to put West Virginia ahead 42-9, then all but destroyed when
Lewis threw his fifth TD pass, covering 10 yards to Ivy, with
nearly 10 minutes still left in the third quarter to make it 49-9.
Lewis' first TD pass covered 40 yards to fullback Wes Ours on
the Mountaineers' opening possession, and Ivy made a nice
one-handed stab for an 11-yard TD early in the second quarter.
Then Lewis hooked up with Brown on scoring throws of 35 and 60
yards. The touchdown passes to Brown came on drives of three plays
and two plays that took a cumulative 52 seconds off the clock.
After Rick Sherrod intercepted Romero Miller's pass and returned
it to the Ole Miss 29 later in the second quarter, Lewis hit Ivy
for 25 yards to set up a short touchdown run by Ours and make it
35-9 at halftime.
Miller scored the Rebels' first touchdown on a 7-yard scramble
in the third quarter to make it 49-16.
Manning took over for the fourth quarter and threw touchdown
passes of 23 yards to Jamie Armstrong, 18 yards to Omar Rayford and
16 yards to Toward Sanford after freezing the Mountaineers with a
nice fake on a fourth-and-1 play.
"I wasn't really expecting a comeback," Manning said. "I was
just trying to score a couple of points."
|Fullback Wes Ours rumbles toward the end zone during his 40-yard TD reception in the first half.|
Nehlen's bowl losing streak ends at eight
West Virginia's Shawn Terry stomps 99 yards for the TD against Mississippi.: avi 2035 k
Real 56.6 | ISDN | T1
Brad Lewis throws a 60-yard bomb to Antonio Brown for the touchdown.: avi 1075 k
Real 56.6 | ISDN | T1
West Virginia's Brad Lewis throws 40 yards to Wes Ours for the TD.: avi 1564 k
Real 56.6 | ISDN | T1