Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Ole Miss and South Carolina both have reasons to be confident about Thursday night’s game (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET). Here’s a look at the top three things each team has going for it as we count down to kickoff:
Defensive line muscle: Even without a fully healthy Greg Hardy, Ole Miss has one of the deepest defensive lines in college football. The Rebels hope to get a few plays out of Hardy, who sprained his ankle in the opener. They just don’t know how many plays. Even so, look for Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix to be aggressive. Having a front four of Kentrell Lockett and Marcus Tillman at the ends and Jerrell Powe and Ted Laurent at the tackles opens up a lot of things for everybody else on defense.
Snead’s due: It’s not like junior quarterback Jevan Snead has stunk up the joint in the Rebels’ first two games. He’s been just OK and finished strong against Memphis in the opener. The thing is: He’s a lot better than just OK, and you know he’s going to break out sooner or later with one of those games where he carves a defense apart. The Gamecocks are young in the secondary, so you can bet that Snead will take a few shots.
Running to glory: The Rebels’ running game is one of the more diverse running games in the league. They can line it up and come at you with more of a traditional approach with any combination of Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis and Cordera Eason. But they also keep you off balance with Dexter McCluster and that Wild Rebel formation. Senior right tackle John Jerry is a devastating run-blocker, and Ole Miss likes to run behind him. Senior center Daverin Geralds is also solid up the middle, but the Rebels are hurting right now at fullback because of injuries. They may play 315-pound offensive lineman Mark Jean-Louis some at fullback against the Gamecocks.
Playing to the crowd: The home-field advantage at Williams-Brice Stadium, especially in a night game, can be a huge factor. That is, if South Carolina will let it be a factor. Playing well early and keeping the crowd in it will be crucial for the Gamecocks, who would love to get ahead from the outset and put Ole Miss in a position where the Rebels are having to throw on every down. Making checks and making adjustments at the line of scrimmage can be pretty difficult when nobody can hear anything.
The Big ‘E’: The SEC defensive MVP award through the first quarter of the season goes to South Carolina senior outside linebacker Eric Norwood, who leads the SEC with four sacks. He’s not just a pass-rusher, either, as evidenced by his interception return for a touchdown against Georgia. Norwood and junior end Cliff Matthews are a handful for any offensive line, but they will be matched up against a left side of the Ole Miss offensive line that’s been shaky this season. Sophomore left tackle Bradley Sowell is a first-year starter.
Stephen Garcia takes flight: The Gamecocks’ sophomore quarterback is improving weekly, which is music to the ears of the South Carolina fans who endured what had to seem like an eternity of Garcia making more news off the field than on the field. He’s throwing the ball with more confidence, seeing the field better and will no doubt set his sights on an Ole Miss secondary that’s the most unproven part of that defense. The Rebels will come after him, but Garcia is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when it comes to escaping pressure.