Gamecocks' defense throttles fourth-ranked Rebels

After knocking off the Ole Miss Rebels at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia on Thursday night, South Carolina football players celebrate their big victory with Gamecocks fans.

COLUMBIA — The weeks that follow will determine whether South Carolina really is a 'new' Carolina, as the players and coaches have been trumpeting around here since the summer months.

But the 2009 Gamecocks have already done one thing to Steve Spurrier's liking: They've made history.

Riding Ellis Johnson's bruised and bruising defense, South Carolina held on Thursday night for a 16-10 victory against No. 4 Mississippi before 74,724 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.

'It's probably the biggest win here in ... ' USC quarterback Stephen Garcia said, stopping himself to think.

'Forever,' he said, finishing the sentence.

In a sense, he's right. After all, the Gamecocks (3-1, 1-1 SEC) hadn't ever beaten a top 5 team on their home field.

The program's most recent victory against a top-5 game in 1981 — years before the players were born.

'It was a wonderful victory USC captures landmark victory for our team, our university and all Gamecocks,' said Spurrier, who collected only his second win against a top-10 team in four-plus seasons here.

For certain, the win didn't come easily.

Down six, Ole Miss got to the USC 32-yard line two minutes to play. But the Rebels started going backward.

Coach Houston Nutt called a second-down reverse that went in reverse, back to the 35. Cliff Matthews got his second sack of Jevan Snead on the following play, backing Ole Miss to the 36.

Let Snead's final line tell you about his night: The supposed Heisman candidate was 7 of 21 for 107 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked four times and fumbled earlier on Matthews' first sack.

A penalty pushed Ole Miss' desperation fourth-down play even farther back, leaving the Rebels with a fourth-and-18 at the USC 41.

Snead dropped back and looked downfield to the right side. The ball was nearly intercepted by safety Darian Stewart. It eventually hit the turf to signal USC's landmark victory.

Ole Miss finished with 248 total yards. The Rebels (2-1, 0-1 SEC) had 118 yards up until the 13:29 mark of the fourth quarter.

That was the start of their only touchdown drive, a plodding march down the field until a fluky throw from Snead to Markeith Summers for a 43-yard score.

The Gamecocks were blitzing, and Alonzo Winfield and Chris Culliver collided in the defensive backfield, allowing Summers to get wide open.

Most of the night, though, belonged to the USC defense, which has been riddled by injuries and suspensions early in the season.

'To hold this team to 10 points is pretty good,' Spurrier said. 'We relied on our defense to win the game.'

Spurrier was far from giddy about the team's offense, though it did control the action in the first half.

Like the season-opening North Carolina State victory, the defense even set up the team's only touchdown.

Matthews' fumble-inducing sack gave the offense the ball at the 25-yard line.

A third-and-goal pass from the 2, with Garcia finding Pat DiMarco in the flat, gave the Gamecocks the score they desperately needed.

They played conservative thereafter, going three-and-out on the next five possessions. South Carolina gained only 18 yards after that score.

But it managed to do just enough to win, leaning on that defense.

It was the Rebels' highest ranking since the 1970 season. That stay at No. 4 also lasted a week.

'We weren't going to put them on a pedestal,' linebacker Eric Norwood said, echoing something he'd heard the Gamecocks' head coach say earlier in the week.

Reach Travis Haney at thaney@postandcourier.com and check out the South Carolina blog at www.postandcourier.com/weblogs/gamecocks.