Not-So-Distant Memory

When looking for the turning point in Ole Miss' fateful 9-4 run in 2008, many fans and outside pundits often point to a 31-30 upset over Florida in the Swamp as the catapult.

But when the Rebels returned home, all good will built in Gainesville quickly disappeared, as a career day for now-departed South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley led to a 31-24 victory for the Gamecocks.

Fast forward almost a year later, Ole Miss sits as the fourth-highest ranked team in the country and off to its first 2-0 start since 2002. USC, after topping Florida Atlantic by 22 points a week prior, holds a 2-1 overall record and 0-1 mark in Southeastern Conference play.

However, for numerous members of the Rebel defense, memories of a game gone terribly wrong on the fourth day of October still remain.

"It's time to play now," said junior defensive end Kentrell Lockett. "We've been waiting on it a long time. We kind of owe these guys. They came in here and did something we don't like, don't approve of really. Now, we've got to go over to their turf and battle. It's the first SEC game. It's time to get it on now."

Smelley, who transferred shortly following last season, totaled 327 yards on 22-of-31 passes in the win. Three touchdowns resulted, with Smelley leading the charge of a second half comeback and an 11-play, 95-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter to put Ole Miss away.

Senior cornerback Marshay Green remembers the 405 yards of total offense surrendered all too well.

"Like I say, it's a big time game and I have a year of experience under my belt. Let's do it," he said. "Basically, Coach (Tyrone) Nix was telling us about being on the road and handling the environment. But it's like a regular game. We have to approach it like it's the last game we'll ever play. We've got to do everything we can to come out with a victory."

Though South Carolina offers an influx of new faces offensively, the team still presents similar challenges as the year before.

The Gamecocks rank seventh in the conference in total offense (417.0), sixth in passing offense (230.0) and ninth in rushing (169.7). However, those numbers can be a bit misleading, considering USC has totaled at least 37 points in their last two contests.

"They're explosive," defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. "They‘re physical, they run the ball well and they have big playmakers. They can score points on anyone - look at the Georgia game. They're scoring a lot of points right now, are well-balanced and have big time players."

Known as the greatest of quarterback critics as a former Heisman winner, it seems Gamecock head coach Steve Spurrier has finally ended the carousel of signal callers in Columbia with the performance of sophomore Stephen Garcia.

Despite a slow start in an uninspiring 7-3 win over N.C. State to open the season, Garcia has rapidly progressed in a starting role, ranking second in the conference for total offense with 253.0 yards per game.

"From what I've seen on film, he's got a pretty good arm," junior cornerback Jeremy McGee said. "We're going to have to be strict in our assignments. They look like a pretty good offense. They move the ball well and have a nice running back. They're also good in the passing game. They can do either/or."

"Stephen Garcia has made a big jump since last year," Nix added. "He's getting them in position, making the right reads and throwing the ball on time and accurately. He pulls it down when he needs to and gets positive yards when he runs it. He's a good quarterback. He's got skills. He's elusive, so we'll have to try to keep him in the pocket and get pressure on him without him breaking containment."

While the Rebel defense has held opponents to a combined total of 20 points in their first two contests, the overall performances in both wins haven't gone without criticism.

From sloppy tackling in a 45-14 victory over Memphis, to over 300 yards allowed against Southeastern Louisiana, the conference's second-ranked scoring defense has certainly endured its fair share of forgettable stretches.

"I know there‘s people out there saying, ‘Why is Ole Miss No. 4?' There are people asking if our coaches worked hard enough in the offseason, if we worked hard enough in the offseason," Green said. "We want to prove the critics wrong. But also, we want to keep a level head and just stay focused on the goal at hand."

But after the happenings of 2008, Lockett says doubters needn't worry about another letdown with this group. Motivation? They've got plenty.

"The first game was special because it was the first game. The second game was special also because it was the first game at home. But the third game, it's even bigger," he said. "It's an SEC game, plus, we owe them. It's special and we have a chance to be 3-0. We're going to come out and really just take it personal.

"We want to show we're a force in the SEC."

OM Spirit Top Stories