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PASADENA, Calif. — Texas Tech was on the verge of blowing the game wide open in the final minutes of its Texas Bowl meeting against SEC foe Ole Miss on Wednesday.
The Red Raiders controlled a 35-19 lead and were driving down field for another score when sophomore running back Cam'Ron Valdez escaped for what looked like another easy touchdown score on a 29-yard play. Just behind him, though, was Ole Miss cornerback Miles Battle looking to disrupt the score.
At the Ole Miss 1-yard line, Battle punched the ball out of Valdez's hands and into the back of the end zone for a touchback. It was a much-needed stop in a game that had otherwise been all Texas Tech. Ole Miss went on to score their next possession to make it a 10-point game, but it was the closest the Rebels got to sniffing a win.
Battle's last-second forced fumble was reminiscent of a play made by Utah's Clark Phillips III — who Battle will now replace in Utah's lineup after he announced his transfer to Salt Lake City on Friday — in the Rose Bowl last season against Ohio State. The play wasn't lost on his new cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah.
"What was awesome, in his bowl game, he had a very similar play like Clark," Shah said. "I was like, 'Oh my god, what a beautiful omen.' So there was so many things that he brings to the table. He just comes from a wonderful family, got to meet his parents. I think he's just a value add in the room, just another quality piece to help us do what we want to do again."
Battle joins Utah as a 6-foot-4 athlete that has experience as both a wide receiver and more recently as a corner. Shah said Battle's length, alone, is one of the first reasons why the program was interested in bringing on the former four-star athlete to line up opposite of Zemaiah Vaughn next season and add another experienced player to the defense.
"When you have longer corners, it just makes it more difficult for a quarterback to fit a ball in a smaller window," Shah said. "In the Pac-12 we play incredibly good quarterbacks — over and over again.
"We have a tremendous amount of speed coming in with CJ Blocker, Smith Snowden, these kids are with us and they've signed — fast, unbelievably fast. It's now a good complement to have longer corners, so now offensive coordinators can't always simply think they can back shoulder you in the red zone. It's not a jump ball because we have people that can jump for that ball, too."
It's another piece to a defensive puzzle that Utah hopes it can add to its first top-25 recruiting class in program history as it look to again be a contender in the Pac-12 title race for the third straight season.
And as much as Utah was interested in Battle, Shah said Battle "knew about us" and wanted to be with a program that could develop defensive backs and send them to the NFL.
"My first question I was like, 'What do you know about Utah?' He started rattling off facts that were so impressive. I'm like, 'Oh my god, I love you.' He's like, 'Coach, I love what you guys do; you develop people, and I see it.,'" Shah said, while adding that Battle told him he still needed "some development, and I want to be with a good program that has a coaching staff that's been in place for a long time that runs the same defense."
"He's had three different position coaches, several different coordinators, how can you expect a kid to to be good? You can't," Shah said. "So I can look through all of that and say that kid has a foundation of clay that you can mold into something beautiful. That was our interest in him: His intelligence and the reps that he has gotten at Ole Miss, he's been very productive."
Battle is expected to join the program at the beginning of the season after Utah returns home from its second straight Rose Bowl appearance.