After two games where the South Carolina defense suddenly turned into the big question mark for the Gamecocks, the thought of facing the high-octane Mississippi Rebels offense wasn’t a pleasant one for many Gamecock fans. But when the national spotlight shined on Williams-Brice Stadium Thursday night, the defense proved their worth with a performance to remember.
“Our defense was sensational tonight,” said Coach Spurrier. “It’s a good win for our university, our team and our fans.”
Snead, a player who some had touted as a potential Heisman candidate, had a night to forget, completing only 7-of-21 pass attempts for just 107 yards. Had it not been for a blown coverage on his 45-yard TD pass, Snead would’ve left Williams-Brice Stadium with less than 100 yards on the night.
“Eric Norwood and Cliff Matthews were all over the place – that’s how you stop good passing,” Spurrier said. “When you get pressure, it makes it tough to throw.”
Norwood finished the game with two sacks, good enough to move him into first place all-time at South Carolina and eighth all-time in SEC history.
“This is what I came back here for – to win, not to be mediocre,” he said.
According to senior Darian Stewart, the defense entered the game intent on showcasing themselves.
“We felt like we got the defense to hold anybody and we wanted to show the world we could do it and we did it,” said senior Darian Stewart. “Our goal was not to [let them get into a rhythm].”
“This was a statement game and it lets everyone know that we’re a team to compete with in the SEC,” said Matthews.
The Gamecock defense stifled the Rebels for most of the night, holding Mississippi to just 248 yards of offense (nearly 200 yards below their season average). The Rebels were only 1-of-13 on third downs and were 1-of-4 on fourth down conversions.
Even after a night of bottling up the Rebels, it came down to the final series of the game before the celebrations could start. The home fans, sensing the need to give the defense an extra boost, rose to the occasion.
“I love this crowd – I believe they rattled Ole Miss,” said Stewart. “It was definitely a big factor for us. This crowd tonight was just crazy.”
“Playing on Thursday night in front of the greatest fans in the world, there’s nothing like it,” said Matthews.
Assistant head coach Ellis Johnson was pleased with the defense’s effort when they need a stop to secure the win.
“They were knocking us around on the line of scrimmage at the end,” he said. “We’ll find plenty of things to correct on film, but the heart they showed and the effort was terrific.”