For those of you who didn't know it was going on, or had better things to do, or just think there's something perverse about college football on a Thursday (and I am not among you), South Carolina beat Ole Miss 16-10 last night. Until late in the game, the South Carolina defense put the clamps on Jevan Snead and the Ole Miss offense.
Here were the lengths of Ole Miss's drives in the first 3 quarters of the game: -15, 49, 8, 9, 19, -2, 21, 0, -1. Through 3 quarters, Ole Miss had 88 yards of offense. This starting to change in the 4th quarter, as South Carolina's defense started wearing down, but the Gamecock offense did not get a first down from the middle of the 3rd quarter to the end of the game. The Gamecocks ended the game with 5 consecutive 3-and-outs and needed their defense to come up with one last big stand, aided by Ole Miss penalties.
This was a South Carolina defense, mind you, that gave up 41 points to Georgia. They harassed Jevan Snead all night, and he ended up with just 107 yards passing on 21 attempts. 45 of those yards came on the late touchdown that Ole Miss scored as a result of a coverage breakdown that left a receiver wide open streaking to the end zone. He was also sacked at least 3 times, and finished with 6 rushes for -10 yards. His ATVSQBPI? 4.3. Not exactly All-American numbers against his first real opponent of the season.
If the South Carolina offense had been any good, this game would have been decided by 3 touchdowns. As it was, South Carolina had 4 possessions in which they had a 1st and Goal, and came away from those possessions with 3 field goals and a touchdown. One of those field goals came when they had 1st and Goal from the 2 yard line. They also had a touchdown called back by penalty.
The big fear about Ole Miss was that they were perceived to be a team that was ready to simply have a continuation of the way it finished the 2008 season, in which they won their last 6 games. Plus, there was the little problem of Ole Miss having clearly the easiest schedule of all the teams expected to challenge for the SEC West. This was easy in part because Ole Miss did not get Florida or Georgia from the East. Instead, they got to play South Carolina and Vanderbilt. They failed to take advantage of that perceived easy schedule from the East.
It turns out that, even though Georgia beat South Carolina, the Gamecocks may actually be the tougher opponent this year. I don't know how they gave up 41 to Georgia, because that defense I saw last night was tough. It got after the passer, and it clamped down on receivers. Ole Miss only started moving the ball when they relied heavily on outside runs by Dexter McCluster.
This means that Ole Miss does not have the luxury of playing Alabama and LSU each at home, needing only a split. If Ole Miss wants to win the SEC West, they may very well need to beat both LSU and Alabama. And let's not forget how good Auburn has looked so far.
It means that Ole Miss blew it. While it's never easy to win the SEC West, you could say that they entered the 200m race with a 2 step handicap advantage. Then they stumbled out of the blocks. They could still win the race, but they blew their advantage. Now they'll have to go out and really earn it from here forward. And they'll have to do it with an offensive line that let South Carolina beat it repeatedly with only a 3-man rush. They'll have to do it without much in the way of an inside possession receiver. They'll have to do it with a secondary that gave up multiple big plays to South Carolina receivers.
Ole Miss has been brought down to Earth, and now LSU needs only elevate its game to take advantage.