SEC: Rebels-Gamecocks 092409

Finally a breakthrough win for Gamecocks

September, 25, 2009
9/25/09
2:27
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina senior receiver Moe Brown called his teammates together Wednesday night at the team hotel and offered a brief history lesson that’s been pure misery for anybody who’s followed this program.

It’s called the Chicken Curse, and it goes something like this: The Gamecocks are allowed to get close, many times agonizingly close, but they just can’t seem to break through.

They entered Thursday night’s game against No. 4-ranked Ole Miss having never beaten a top-5 team at home, and they’d lost 22 straight games overall to top-5 teams.
 
 Paul Abell/US Presswire
 Steve Spurrier had to rely on his defense to defeat Ole Miss Thursday night.


Brown’s message to his teammates: We’ve been close to winning some of these. Let’s finish this thing and get it done.

“We wanted to come in and show the world what we can do. Now they know,” South Carolina safety Darian Stewart said. “This is the new Carolina.”

New Carolina or old Carolina, these Gamecocks are 3-1 and one play away at Georgia two weeks ago from being 4-0.

They’re doing it with old-school defense, just enough plays on offense and a genuine belief that this is their time to finally break through in the SEC.

It was Steve Spurrier’s biggest win at South Carolina since beating Florida his first season in Columbia.

“Our defense was sensational,” said Spurrier, marveling over the Gamecocks’ ability to hold the Rebels to 1-of-13 on third down. “We relied on our defense to win the game. It’s as simple as that.”

That may not be the ideal blueprint to win a game in the offensive-minded eyes of the Head Ball Coach, but he’s not giving this one back, either.

Not after so many near misses that have defined this program long before he showed up in Columbia.

“It was good for our team to get a big win at home, especially for our fans,” said Spurrier, who improved to 6-13 at South Carolina against nationally ranked teams.

The surest sign that perhaps this one was going to be different came in the second quarter when Ole Miss’ Marshay Green took off on a punt return and cut back across the field on his way to what looked like a sure touchdown.

But South Carolina junior punter Spencer Lanning made a textbook tackle in the open field to save a touchdown. The Rebels ended up getting no points because they faked a field goal that was snuffed out by the Gamecocks.

“The biggest play of the game was our punter making a tackle. We’re going to bring him over and let him show some tackling drills to our perimeter people,” joked Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant head coach for the defense.

Yep, it was that kind of night for the Gamecocks, the kind they expect to have many more of on down the road.

“College football is about being resilient,” said senior outside linebacker Eric Norwood, who had two more sacks and leads the SEC with six. “We don’t care about what’s happened in the past here. It’s about what’s going on right now.”

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Over-hyped Rebels exposed by Gamecocks

September, 25, 2009
9/25/09
1:44
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Not only is South Carolina’s Eric Norwood the best defensive player in the SEC right now -- maybe the best player period -- but he’s also a stickler for getting right to the point.

His take on South Carolina’s 16-10 victory over No. 4-ranked Ole Miss on Thursday night at Williams-Brice Stadium was short and sweet.

Almost as sweet as one of his blink-and-you-miss-it swoops to sack the quarterback.
 
 Paul Abell/US Presswire
 Eric Norwood recorded a pair of sacks in the Gamecocks' victory Thursday night.


“They had a lot of hype, but we weren’t going to put them on a pedestal,” said Norwood, who had two more sacks to raise his SEC-leading total to six and dominated the game for much of the night.

“This wasn’t an upset. We beat them last year. If they had killed us 70-0 last year, then yeah, it probably would have been an upset. There was no reason we couldn’t come in here and beat these guys.”

And there’s no reason to believe, after watching the Rebels’ disjointed offensive effort Thursday, that Ole Miss was ever a bona fide top-5 team.

Top 5 in hype, maybe. But in substance?

This is a team that had a lot to prove coming into Thursday night’s game and left with even more to prove.

One thing that will be different is that the Rebels -- whose claim to fame this season was beating up on Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana -- won’t have to worry about dragging around a top 5 ranking for a while.

Probably a long while.

“I’m glad it’s gone so we can get back to working and win some ballgames,” said Ole Miss left tackle Bradley Sowell, who had the longest night of all the Rebels in trying to block Norwood. “You can’t really pay attention to [the ranking] anyway. I’m glad it’s over with so everyone can just stop talking about it and play ball.”

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said he never sensed his club was feeling the pressure of being ranked so highly.
 
 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
 Jevan Snead never got on track Thursday night, completing just 7 of 21 passes for 107 yards.


But it was clear Thursday that the Rebels (2-1) have a ways to go, particularly offensively. Junior quarterback Jevan Snead finished 7-of-21 for 107 yards and was sacked four times. Ole Miss has serious protection problems.

The Gamecocks hit Snead early and kept hitting him. It’s the most Snead has been hit since he took over last season as the Rebels’ starter.

“He had a little bit of the happy feet,” Norwood said. “But when you’ve got guys like Cliff [Matthews], Ladi [Ajiboye] and Travian [Robertson] bringing it from the middle and then from the outside, it’s going to make it hard.”

The most curious part of Ole Miss’ game plan Thursday was not getting Dexter McCluster involved until the fourth quarter. He only had four touches through the first three quarters.

“We felt like every time we had a plan to get him the ball, we’d look up and it would be third-and-15, and you just can’t play that kind of ball,” Nutt said.

Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant head coach for the defense, has seen Ole Miss up close for several years now having spent some time at Mississippi State before joining the Gamecocks’ staff last season.

He said the Ole Miss team from a year ago was as talented as he’s seen. But this one may be missing a few key pieces.

“You lose a first-rounder in both fronts and a few little things like that, and I’m not sure they’re hitting on all eight cylinders like they were last year,” Johnson said. “It’s still a really good football team, and they’ll show back up.

“It just looked like they were a little out of sync or something.”

And out of their element as a top-5 team.

Final: South Carolina 16, Ole Miss 10

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
11:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- At last, Steve Spurrier has his signature win at South Carolina, and Ole Miss has problems.

Big problems.

The Gamecocks (3-1) held on to beat the No. 4-ranked Rebels 16-10 on Thursday night at Williams-Brice Stadium. It was the first victory for South Carolina over a top-5 team since beating No. 3-ranked North Carolina in 1981.

The Rebels (2-1) looked nothing like an SEC contender most of the night, although they at least made things interesting in the fourth quarter after falling behind 16-3.

It was a nightmarish outing for Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead, who finished 7-of-21 for 107 yards and was hounded at every turn by the South Carolina pressure. The Gamecocks sacked Snead four times, and senior outside linebacker Eric Norwood had two of those in a dominant defensive performance.

Hardy makes an appearance

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
10:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- We hadn't heard much from Greg Hardy all night.

But when Ole Miss needed a play, he came through with a big sack of South Carolina's Stephen Garcia to get the ball back for the Rebels. Hardy, who's nursing a sprained ankle, still doesn't look full speed.

Where has McCluster been?

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
10:48
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Ole Miss is right back in this game, and Dexter McCluster is a big reason why.

My question: Where has McCluster been all night? He had four touches through the first three quarters, but has sparked the Rebels' offense in their comeback with his speed to the outside.

Norwood dominating game

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
10:28
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- There's no other way to say it: Eric Norwood is dominating this football game right now.

South Carolina's senior outside linebacker is going 100 mph and has been unblockable on defense and special teams. After hurrying Ole Miss' Jevan Snead into a near interception, he comes back on the next play and partially blocks the punt.

Can you say SEC defensive MVP?

Rebels need old Snead to re-appear

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
10:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Well, we’re going to find out if Jevan Snead really is a franchise quarterback.

His No. 4-ranked Ole Miss team is in deep trouble, trailing 16-3 on the road to South Carolina in the third quarter, and Snead has been a big part of the problem. He hasn’t been able to get anything going in the passing game and has looked jumpy in the pocket all night.

Even on short throws, the kind he made in his sleep last season, he hasn’t thrown the ball with any confidence.

If the Rebels are going to have any chance to come back in this game, Snead needs to find the same form he finished last season with ... and fast.

South Carolina's Robertson out with knee injury

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina keeps losing key defensive players.

Junior tackle Travian Robertson sprained his knee in the third quarter and won't return to the game. Tackle Nathan Pepper was already slowed by an ankle injury.

Red zone offense tormenting Gamecocks

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:54
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Nobody likes short field goals.

But that’s what you get when you’re last in the league in red zone offense.

If South Carolina loses this game, the Gamecocks can thank a red zone offense that continues to lag behind.

After botching a couple of good touchdown opportunities in the first half, South Carolina comes out in the second half and gets the play it’s looking for -- a 69-yard completion from Stephen Garcia to Moe Brown.

But first-and-goal from the Ole Miss 9 leads to another short Spencer Lanning field goal. The Gamecocks simply can't make any plays (or avoid penalties) near the goal line.

Halftime analysis: South Carolina 6, Ole Miss 3

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina leads No. 4-ranked Ole Miss 6-3 at halftime in a battle of field goals. Both teams have made a ton of mistakes.

Here’s a halftime analysis from the game:

Best player of the half: South Carolina senior outside linebacker Eric Norwood raised his SEC-leading sack total to five with a first-quarter sack of Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead. Norwood spearheaded a South Carolina pass rush that kept Snead bottled up and limited him to just 30 passing yards in the first half.

Turning point: South Carolina punter Spencer Lanning saved a touchdown when he tripped up Ole Miss’ Marshay Green in the open field in the second quarter. It looked like Green was gone as he cut back across the field, but Lanning made a shoe-string tackle at the South Carolina 31. The Rebels ended up not getting any points after a fake field goal was snuffed out by the Gamecocks.

Stat of the game: The Gamecocks have six penalties for 45 yards in the first half, and all of them were costly. They had their fourth touchdown pass of the season called back on an ineligible man downfield penalty. Prior to that penalty, they had the ball first-and-goal at the Ole Miss 2, but senior center Lemuel Jeanpierre was called for holding, moving the ball back to the 12.

Targeting Ole Miss' Green

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina thought it might be able to hit a few shots down the field against the Ole Miss secondary.

There haven't been any big gainers to this point, but the Gamecocks have gotten cornerback Marshay Green twice on pass interference penalties. The 5-foot-9 Green is giving up a lot of size to South Carolina's taller receivers.

Ole Miss' Shackelford shaken up

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
8:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Ole Miss freshman linebacker D.T. Shackleford hasn’t been on the field the last three possessions.

He appeared to injure his ankle in the first quarter and has it heavily taped. He’s been trying to warm it back up on the sideline and looks like he will have a chance to go back into the game at some point.

Snead still looking for his rhythm

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
8:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead still doesn’t look to be in any kind of rhythm.

Part of it is that South Carolina has gotten good pressure on him, and he’s had to get rid of the ball in a hurry. Snead finished the first quarter 2-of-5 for 21 yards.

One thing the Rebels did in the first quarter was shorten this game with a 14-play drive that included nine running plays, ending in Joshua Shene’s 42-yard field goal.

Lot of empty seats

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
8:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- One of the most surprising things about the Ole Miss-South Carolina game is all the empty seats in Williams-Brice Stadium.

The upper decks on both the east side and in the south end zone are nowhere near being full. There are gaping patches of empty seats, and it's nowhere near a capacity crowd.

Norwood blazes to record

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
8:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- It's just one possession, but Ole Miss left tackle Bradley Sowell doesn't look like much of a match for South Carolina pass-rushing extraordinaire Eric Norwood.

The Gamecocks' senior outside linebacker lined up as a defensive end on third-and-long and blew by Sowell, who barely got a hand on Norwood. It was the 27th sack of Norwood's career, making him the all-time record holder at South Carolina.

The Rebels are going to have to get Sowell help on that side. He can't block Norwood by himself.

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