Another day, another game in the Superdome. Same entertainment? Hardly. The New Orleans Bowl had Sun Belt swagger. The 9th edition of the New Orleans Bowl was actually sponsored by R+L Carriers, who judging from the commercial spots during the game, are apparently fearless when it comes to snowy situations and your shipping needs (highly appropriate for New Orleans). R+L Carriers has been just fine as a sponsor as far as the Sun Belt Conference is concerned (Sun Belt is 3-1 since R+L took over in 2006-the one loss was in OT). The average score for the games is Sun Belt 38.5 v. Conference USA 26.5.
The 2009 New Orleans Bowl saw Middle Tennessee State from the Sun Belt square off against Southern Miss from C-USA. Southern Miss was 3-0 (all against Sun Belt teams) in the New Orleans Bowl coming into the game while scoring an average 30.6 points per game. Middle Tennessee State had not played in the Sun Belt's sole Bowl tie-in. Final Score MTSU 42 v. USM 32. So what's the angle here? What happened?
First the obvious, Southern Miss' coach is Larry Fedora. As the telecast came on, Fedora is shown on the sidelines doing his thing in a visor. Larry "Visor" Fedora does not go after the obvious endorsement deal possibilities of that name. He now has two 7-6 seasons at USM to show for it. Gucci is ready when you are Coach Fedora.
What I'm getting at is that USM lacked the swagger of MTSU last night. This is not a plug for The U documentary.
This was a put your name in the record book game. Both teams had players angling to take their respective places in said book. USM's Damion Fletcher needed just 63 yards to become only the 9th running back in FBS history to rush for 1,000 yards in 4 straight years. Fletcher needed only 40 yards to vault past Herschel Walker (5,259-standard awesomeness disclaimer, Walker put up this number in three years and 33 games and bowl stats didn't count then) and LaDainian Tomlinson (5,263) into 8th place on the FBS all-time rushing yards list. Fletcher accomplished both milestones though it took until about a minute left in the game before Fedora called the run which put Fletcher over 1,000 yards on the 2009 season. Fletcher had 9 games in his career where he went over 150 yards rushing. He had only 78 yards in this game.
MTSU's QB Dwight Dasher needed merely 47 yards to become the 9th FBS player to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Enter the swagger. Dasher's 201 yards rushing was not just a New Orleans Bowl record, but also a FBS record for a bowl game. He added 162 yards passing and 4 total TDs (2 pass, 2 rush) in leading MTSU to their best ever FBS season (MTSU is also now the only Sun Belt team to win 10 games as an FBS team). The big rushing number for Dasher was one yard better than Vince Young's masterful performance in the Rose Bowl in 2006. Dasher got the record on a 2 yard run to end the game when all he needed to do was to take a knee. Vince Young got his yards on a much bigger stage (the National Championship) on fewer carries. However, he did not have to survive the turf monster not once, but thrice (3 damn times). Check out the slo-mo replays, one would imagine Dasher would be on crutches right now. What appeared to be a first-half game ending injury sat down Dasher for a grand total of one play. From the Vicksburg Post: "I told coach it was no kind of injury," Dasher said. "Unless something was broke, I was going back in." Nothing broke, Dasher went back in the game and into the record book. I would be remiss not to point out the cool demeanor of MTSU freshman QB Brent Burnette who came in while Dasher was on the sidelines regenerating body tissues. Burnette hit 2 out of 3 passes for 45 yards and a TD which extended a Blue Raider lead which would not be relinquished (Burnette had thrown a total of 22 passes coming into the game). Here is the game in a little over 8 minutes if you missed it.
Bowl Entertainment Factor: Dwight Dasher 3 v. Turf Monster 0.