Ole Miss runners have Oklahoma attention

Wednesday, December 29th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) -- The task for the Oklahoma Sooners' defense in Friday night's Sanford Independence Bowl is simple --stop the Ole Miss Rebels' running game. Of course, it won't be that easy.

The Rebels have one of the nation's top tandem of running backs in Deuce McAllister and Joe Gunn. The two Ole Miss backs have combined for 1,760 yards this season. Their 160 yards per game rushing average is fourth best among rushing tandems in the country. "They have a double threat," Oklahoma linebacker Rocky Calmus said. "Our first mentality is to stop the run. We have to stop the run and make them pass. If we stop the run, we will have played them into our game plan. And we can do what we want with them."

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound McAllister ended the season with four straight 100-yard rushing games. He rushed for 809 yards during the season despite missing the season opener against Arkansas State and splitting time with Gunn. "I think the last four or five games I played up to my potential," McAllister said. "I had to sit out the Arkansas State game with a shoulder injury. And I think the shoulder injury kindof bothered me early on. The more it got well, the more comfortable I became. Kind of toward the end of the year I played like I should have all along."

He rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns at LSU. He rushed for125 yards and two touchdowns against Arkansas. Against Georgia, he had only nine carries but rushed for 104 yards and two more scores. And against Mississippi State, he carried the ball 36 times for 134 yards. "He has great speed. He has great size. He has good knowledge of the game," Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said. "He's a great football player. I think Deuce McAllister is the best all-around back that I've been around."

Remarkably, McAllister did not start a game this season for the Rebels. Those honors belonged to Joe Gunn. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Gunn led the Rebels in rushing with 951 yards and a 5.2 yards per carry average. Gunn rushed for more than 100 yards six times during the regular season. "Joe Gunn is as productive a tailback as I've ever been around," Cutcliffe said.

Oklahoma's task defensively is to slow down McAllister and Gunn. "We've seen a lot of good backs," Calmus said. "We've seen the big ones like (Ja'Mar) Toombs (of Texas A&M) and we've seen the quick ones like (Darren) Davis at Iowa State. "Maybe having two (will put Oklahoma at a disadvantage). If one is tired, you bring in another fresh pair of legs and see him go. But that's nothing our defense can't handle. Our coaches have donea good job of preparing us for their run game. We know what they like to do."

What Ole Miss likes to do is play power football. The Rebels ran the ball 61 per cent of the time this season. "We have real physical people up front (on the offensive line)," Gunn said. "And they come off the ball and run straight at them. The old offense was more, `We'll adjust to you.' In this offense, we make the opposing defense adjust to us."

And that is what could be facing the Sooners Friday night. "If we have to put nine or 10 up there to stop them from running it, we'll try it," Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said." They have an excellent running game, two solid backs. They do an excellent job of hammering it at people. Obviously it's a major focus of ours. But we'll see what happens. That's what the game is for."