Smelley, USC Defense Take Control in Win

The Gamecocks made big play after big play on both sides of the ball to register their first SEC win of the season. Chris Smelley played a heady game, throwing three touchdown passes; and two turnovers forced by the defense were turned into touchdowns. A happy bunch of Gamecocks left Oxford with a 31-24 win over the Ole Miss Rebels and a renewed hope for a good season.

Forget any quarterback controversy at South Carolina. Chris Smelley played every offensive down against Ole Miss, completing 22 of 32 passes, for a career-high 327 yards and three touchdowns. With the game on the line, he led an 11-play, 95-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter to put away Ole Miss. The Rebels were coming off their biggest win in years, knocking off then-No. 4 Florida on the road.

Coach Steve Spurrier said after the game, "He played well; he's our starter, simple as that." Smelley had shared time last week with heralded redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia, and was only named the starter against Ole Miss on Thursday. He made the most of his opportunity. Ever the perfectionist, Spurrier deferred the opportunity to say it was Smelley's best game, saying, "He made some good throws and he missed some guys too. I think he can play better than this, I really do."

"I felt pretty good out there," a smiling Smelley said. "I have felt like that at times before. We were just able to execute and move the ball well at times."

The geniuses deciding which games would be televised whiffed when passing on the Ole Miss – South Carolina game. It was a good old-fashioned barnburner. On a hot 83 degree day in Oxford Mississippi, the girls in The Grove weren't the only thing that was smoking hot to start the day, as Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead was seven for six in the first quarter, leading his team on two textbook drives to pay dirt, right into the teeth of the vaunted Gamecock defense.

The first play of the game was a 21 yard completion, followed by an 11 yard completion, and the Rebs were out of the gate with a bang. Two plays later the Wild Rebel formation resulted in a 14 yard gain to the Gamecock 28. Jevan Snead fumbled the ball out of bounds, but still moved the ball forward to the 20 yard line. Dexter McCluster rushed to the 8, and then Cordera Eason walked into the end zone for one of the most impressive drives of the season against the South Carolina defense.

The Gamecocks were the nation's top defense entering the game, allowing 105 yards passing and 221 total yards per game coming in. The Rebels surpassed both marks by halftime. Snead completed 12 of 15 passes for 154 yards by the break, and the Rebel backfield added another 78 yards rushing.

USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson switched his players into a three man front, and South Carolina's No. 1 defense held Mississippi to a field goal in the second half.

Sandwiched in between the two early Ole Miss touchdowns was a field goal by Ryan Succop on Carolina's first drive of the game.

The first of the Gamecock's big plays came when Jared Cook caught a perfect Smelley pass over the top of the Ole Miss defense and rumbled 65 yards downfield before getting run down from behind at the seven yard line. It was the longest pass play since 2006 in a game against MTSU. A five yard penalty backed them up for 1st and goal at the 12 as the first quarter ended. Smelley was sacked at the 20 yard line, as they continued to go backwards in the red zone. On third and goal from the 20, with the game already on the line, Smelley hit Jason Barnes in the end zone. Barnes caught the ball above his helmet, and was hammered by the defender, his helmet flying, but the ball remained in his possession, and Carolina may have finally found their big playmaker.

The next big play came exactly a minute later when defensive lineman Nathan Pepper scooped up Jevan Snead's fumble and returned it 29 yards. The two plays resulted in a 14-point swing that took South Carolina from trailing 14-3 to leading 17-14. "The first-half fumble was the play that turned it around," Spurrier said. Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt said, "You just can't fumble like that. Can't turn the ball over, they were game-changers today. Have to win the turnover margin. Today was the exact opposite of that."

Ole Miss was not through, though, and answered with another touchdown, to take a 21-14 halftime lead on a 24-yard pass from Snead to Brandon Bolden.

The fourth big play came midway through the third quarter when Chris Culliver forced Dexter McCluster to fumble at the South Carolina 6. Emmanuel Cook returned the fumble to the Ole Miss 42. Spurrier said the play was aided by technology, as Cook looked up at the huge video board as he ran towards the north end zone and saw a defender closing with the intent of knocking the ball out. Cook wrapped both arms around the ball and protected it as he was tackled.

Kenny McKinley got his first reception since the Vandy game on the ensuing drive, and Smelley played heads up ball, converting a pair of first downs with quarterback sneaks, including fourth-and-inches at the Ole Miss 10. He then hit the second of his two touchdown passes to Barnes, a 6-yarder that put the Gamecocks up for good, 24-21.

The next USC drive epitomized the plays that won the day by the visiting Gamecocks. After Ole Miss downed the ball at the 5 following a punt on the ensuing drive, Smelley and tailback Mike Davis determinedly marched South Carolina down the field. Davis rushed for 28 yards on the drive and Smelley hit 5 of 6 passes for 54 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Joe Hills. Kenny McKinley said he felt like a decoy at times in the first half, as other Carolina receivers caught the ball and shined, but he caught the biggest pass of the drive, taking the ball to the Rebel four, setting up Hill's score and a 31-21 lead.

Ole Miss wouldn't quit, and scored a field goal to make it a one touchdown margin. It was fitting that the Carolina defense finished off the Rebels with Carlos Thomas' drive-ending interception in the final minute. "I let it go, and he was right there," Snead said. "Big mistake."

Jason Barnes was the star receiver of the day, with seven catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns, but he had plenty of help. Kenny McKinley had four catches for 58 yards, Jared Cook had three catches for 88 yards, and Moe Brown had another good game with three catches for 67 yards. Unfortunately for Brown, his two biggest catches came on a drive where the USC offense came up empty. Brown made a circus catch on the sideline for a 32 yard gain to the Ole Miss 41, and then caught another one and rumbled for 21 yards to the 20. But Ryan Succop missed a 37 yard field goal after the offense stalled. Mike Davis, Dion Lecorn, Weslye Saunders, Joe Hills, and Larry Freeman all had one catch each.

The Gamecocks still have room for improvement in the rushing department, where they were limited to 78 net yards by Ty Nix's defense.

The Gamecocks improve to 4-2 on the season and 1-2 in the SEC. Ole Miss drops to 3-3 and 1-2 in the conference. USC is on the road again next week when they travel to Kentucky to face the Wildcats in a 12:30 televised contest. Ole Miss has a bye week next week before facing a resurgent Alabama club the following week.


To discuss this article, visit The Cockpit, our free forum, or The Golden Spur, our premium forum.

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories