While No. 4 Ole Miss has outscored its opposition 97-20 during the first 2-0 start since 2002, the Rebels haven't quite bowled their detractors over in lopsided wins versus Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana.
In both wins, the team has endured lengthy stretches of sloppy play, from a stagnant second quarter inside the Liberty Bowl, to dropped passes and porous special teams play in Saturday's 52-6 rout of SELA.
Against the Lions, senior punt returner Marshay Green muffed two chances, with one fumble lost. Senior punter Justin Sparks, who averaged 28.4 yards per punt in five tries, booted kicks of less than 20 yards twice.
"Oh Lord, I don't even want to talk about it," said Rebel head coach Houston Nutt when asked what would happen if such were to occur in SEC contests. "You know what that means. Can't win like that. One of the biggest things we did last year was turn the kicking game around and that helped us win. You can't do that. Gotta take care of the ball. Gotta kick it and gotta catch it."
But with the team's practice schedule accelerated due to a nationally televised Thursday matchup at South Carolina, Nutt and staff won't be afforded the luxury of time to correct what went wrong in the win.
"The advantage South Carolina has with the quick turnaround is they aren't having to travel," Nutt said. "We have to make sure our guys get plenty of rest in the 48 hours leading to the game and the night before the game. That's important."
Along with the special teams, the Rebel offense also experienced rough patches against SELA.
To be fair, the unit did total 500 yards of total offense, while tallying at least 45 points for the fourth straight game dating back to last season. However, junior quarterback Jevan Snead got off to a slow start in his second appearance of 2009, but finished with 16 completions on 28 attempts.
The Stephenville, Texas native totaled 209 yards and three touchdowns through the air in the 15th start of his career, extending his school-record streak of eight straight games with multiple TD passes.
"I played a lot better than I did at Memphis. I felt a lot more comfortable in the pocket and my receivers were getting open," he said. "There are still some things I can improve on. I missed a couple of passes and a couple of coverages. I took a sack that was my fault. I am accountable for that safety blitz and I just didn't pick it up.
"(Offensively) we put up a lot of points and still did not play as good as we are going to. We are getting there. We made some steps tonight with better execution. We will just need to take another step in a hurry, before Thursday night, and we will."
Senior Shay Hodge, who accounted for five catches, 59 yards and a touchdown, believes the offense was sharper than in Memphis, but still has some kinks to work out before the stretch of conference games begins.
"It's going to be tough. We've never had to do this before," Hodge said of the quick turnaround. "Playing on Thursday is going to be a new experience, but I think we'll be able to step up to the challenge. Tuesday turns into Sunday – it all goes fast. It's going to be tough, but we'll get through it.
"I think we got better. We've just got to catch the ball. We've got to do the little things in practice to get that corrected. If we would have caught the ball more consistently Saturday, the game would have gone even smoother. We can always get better."
Though a win came relatively easy, the game didn't come without incident, as Ole Miss was stricken by the injury bug in the form of fullback Andy Hartmann.
Also, senior tight end Gerald Harris and senior defensive end Greg Hardy sat out against SELA as well, taking time to further rest their pre-existing injuries.
"All those bumps and bruises we suffered during the game basically have to heal overnight," defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. "Now it's SEC play. Everything counts. The turnaround is really big. Usually we would have had practice the day after, then had the next day to recuperate. But there are no days off. Yesterday was like a Tuesday practice for us."
Although the Rebels allowed 302 yards of total offense to the Lions Saturday, the squad did force five turnovers. They also failed to surrender a third down conversion all game, while recovering three fumbles for the first time since 2005.
Lockett believes the Rebel defense has continued to improve in the season's early stages but will need an even higher level of play with the Gamecocks lurking.
"We're steadily climbing week-by-week," Lockett said. "We played good (Saturday), did the things Coach Nix wanted us to do and executed. But now we have to take it up another level because we're in SEC play now."
Thursday night's matchup in Columbia will be the conference opener for Ole Miss and the 15th meeting between the schools. Ole Miss leads the series 8-6. The game will be televised nationally at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN.
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