Norwood's impact goes beyond big plays

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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Now that I’ve had a few hours to think about it, I’ve changed my tune about South Carolina outside linebacker Eric Norwood.

Only a handful of games into the season, I’m not ready to say anybody is the defensive MVP -- yet. There are too many good defenders in this league.

What I will say is that I haven’t seen anybody in this league this season -- offense or defense -- that has had a more profound impact on his team in every game than Norwood.

He is the epitome of a difference-maker.

“He’s relentless and you’ve got to keep four hands on him, and even sometimes with that, the pocket collapses,” lamented Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt after watching Norwood dominate the game Thursday in South Carolina’s 16-10 win over the No. 4-ranked Rebels.

Norwood’s numbers tell just part of the story, even though his numbers are pretty gaudy.

He led the Gamecocks with 10 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. He raised his SEC-leading sack total to six and also had two quarterback hurries. If that’s not enough, he partially blocked a punt in the second half.

“He’s obviously a presence, and even on plays where he didn’t make a play, somebody’s doing something to take care of him, which is helping us on defense,” said Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant coach for the defense.

“They chipped him a lot (Thursday) with the back, and we hardly ever had to worry about the back getting out and involved in the routes. There are things he creates that helps us even when he’s not making plays, but he obviously makes some huge, huge plays at critical times.”

His consistency has been amazing. Every game, he's been a force. His interception return for a touchdown against Georgia put South Carolina in a position to win that game, and he was a big factor last week in helping the Gamecocks pull away from Florida Atlantic.

“We haven’t finished a lot of games around here, and that’s something we’ve talked a lot about,” Norwood said. “Now, we’ve got to go make sure we finish this season.”

Some teams ride franchise quarterbacks. Other teams ride great running backs. The Gamecocks will ride the hottest defensive player in the country.

If Norwood wasn't a household name before this season, he is now.