Junior Defensive End Kentrell Lockett, always a colorful quote, will not diminish the importance of the first two games the 4th-ranked Rebels have played, but he knows the difference in those outings and the one facing his squad Thursday night, the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia and the first SEC game of the young season.
"The first game was important because it was the first game," said Lockett. "The second one was important because it was our first home game and we wanted to do well for our fans, but now it's time to play real football.
"It's time to battle, time to get it on. This game is a bigger stage with a bigger meaning, plus we owe these guys. They came in here last year and beat us on our home turf. That's hard to swallow, even now."
The Ole Miss-USC game will be the proving ground the Rebels have been waiting on for a long time, Lockett said.
"We have to take this personal. This isn't about South Carolina as much as it is our first SEC game and to prove we deserve to be ranked as high as we are," he explained.
As one of the more experienced players on the team, Kentrell knows the difference in SEC level play and the rest and he's trying to impress that on the players who will be seeing their first SEC action.
"We've been talking it up to our young guys that they haven't seen the size, speed and physicality they are going to see Thursday night yet," Lockett noted. "We are trying to prepare them for a different level of football. This is not finesse football, it's bloody, hand-in-the-dirt football - get ready."
Lockett is an important piece to one of the Rebel strengths, the defensive line, but thus far they have only managed three quarterback sacks, last in the SEC.
"We've been getting a lot of pressure, but we've played teams so far who have thrown the ball quickly - three-step drops and stuff like that," Lockett noted. "We aren't worried about the sacks, they will come. We just have to keep pressuring and let the sacks take care of themselves."
Senior Dexter McCluster's approach is a little different.
"On the offensive side of the ball, we still feel this is about us," said Dex. "We want to play a four-quarter game with the mentality of scoring every time we have the ball. We haven't done that so far and it's time to step up and get it done.
"We are going to a different level of football now and we will have to be sharp. As Coach (Houston) Nutt says, we can't have eight guys doing their job on a play and three not doing it. It takes all 11, especially in the SEC."
Dex is proud of the contributions of the younger players to this point, but he's also telling them to tighten up their chinstraps.
"Pat (Patterson) and Jesse (Grandy) are doing very well in our group, but we are letting them know they have not faced anything like they are about to face and to be prepared for more speed and more hitting," McCluster explained. "We are telling them to ignore the talking and to keep their focus. Do your job and the end results will speak for themselves.
"This league is not only about great athletes, it's about composure and keeping your cool and your wits. That's the message I am giving the young guys in our unit."
From a different perspective, with Fullback Andy Hartmann sidelined, backup Daniel Hoffman is likely to have an expanded role on the biggest stage of his career.
"This will be like the Super Bowl to me. This is a huge opportunity for us and for me," said Hoffman. "I can't tell you how excited I already am. My team will be counting on me to do my part and I wil not let them down. All the fullbacks hate that Andy is hurt, but we intend to pick up the slack and perform."
Hoffman said his biggest concern is not getting too hyped up.
"I'm not worried about the physical part at all, I'm pretty physical on the football field and I will give up my body on every snap, no matter what," he said. "What I have to do is stay focused and keep my emotions in check so I get my assignments right. I've been repping a lot this week and concentrating so I will be composed on Thursday."
All the players understand what is in store for them in Columbia.
It's finally, after months of waiting and working, real football.
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