Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Not only is South Carolina’s Eric Norwood the best defensive player in the SEC right now -- maybe the best player period -- but he’s also a stickler for getting right to the point.
His take on South Carolina’s 16-10 victory over No. 4-ranked Ole Miss on Thursday night at Williams-Brice Stadium was short and sweet.
Almost as sweet as one of his blink-and-you-miss-it swoops to sack the quarterback.
“They had a lot of hype, but we weren’t going to put them on a pedestal,” said Norwood, who had two more sacks to raise his SEC-leading total to six and dominated the game for much of the night.
“This wasn’t an upset. We beat them last year. If they had killed us 70-0 last year, then yeah, it probably would have been an upset. There was no reason we couldn’t come in here and beat these guys.”
And there’s no reason to believe, after watching the Rebels’ disjointed offensive effort Thursday, that Ole Miss was ever a bona fide top-5 team.
Top 5 in hype, maybe. But in substance?
This is a team that had a lot to prove coming into Thursday night’s game and left with even more to prove.
One thing that will be different is that the Rebels -- whose claim to fame this season was beating up on Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana -- won’t have to worry about dragging around a top 5 ranking for a while.
Probably a long while.
“I’m glad it’s gone so we can get back to working and win some ballgames,” said Ole Miss left tackle Bradley Sowell, who had the longest night of all the Rebels in trying to block Norwood. “You can’t really pay attention to [the ranking] anyway. I’m glad it’s over with so everyone can just stop talking about it and play ball.”
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said he never sensed his club was feeling the pressure of being ranked so highly.
But it was clear Thursday that the Rebels (2-1) have a ways to go, particularly offensively. Junior quarterback Jevan Snead finished 7-of-21 for 107 yards and was sacked four times. Ole Miss has serious protection problems.
The Gamecocks hit Snead early and kept hitting him. It’s the most Snead has been hit since he took over last season as the Rebels’ starter.
“He had a little bit of the happy feet,” Norwood said. “But when you’ve got guys like Cliff [Matthews], Ladi [Ajiboye] and Travian [Robertson] bringing it from the middle and then from the outside, it’s going to make it hard.”
The most curious part of Ole Miss’ game plan Thursday was not getting Dexter McCluster involved until the fourth quarter. He only had four touches through the first three quarters.
“We felt like every time we had a plan to get him the ball, we’d look up and it would be third-and-15, and you just can’t play that kind of ball,” Nutt said.
Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant head coach for the defense, has seen Ole Miss up close for several years now having spent some time at Mississippi State before joining the Gamecocks’ staff last season.
He said the Ole Miss team from a year ago was as talented as he’s seen. But this one may be missing a few key pieces.
“You lose a first-rounder in both fronts and a few little things like that, and I’m not sure they’re hitting on all eight cylinders like they were last year,” Johnson said. “It’s still a really good football team, and they’ll show back up.
“It just looked like they were a little out of sync or something.”
And out of their element as a top-5 team.