The Gamecocks beat the Rebels yesterday by a final score of 31-24. This was a pretty big win for the guys, as we were on the road and Ole Miss appears to be a solid team after they beat Florida last week. Not to mention that we finally broke a long SEC losing streak.
With winnable games against Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Clemson coming up, as well as the potential for an upset against LSU or Florida, this win indicates that there's good reason to believe we're still capable of getting to a bowl not located in Shreveport or Birmingham. I said at the beginning of the year that Spurrier needs eight wins to prove that he's moving the program forward, and we appear to be on track to get there. It won't be easy, as all our remaining games with the possible exception of Arkansas are going to be tough, but if we continue to play like we did today, we can do it.
What did we learn about the Gamecocks yesterday? Well, first of all, we learned that Chris Smelley is a better QB than we've given him credit for. A lot of people (including myself) questioned Spurrier's decision to go with Smelley over Garcia, but Smelley had a career day, going 22-32 and throwing for 327 yards. He finally threw a few passes down the field and for the most part was very accurate and hit some big throws to Jason Barnes, Jared Cook, and Moe Brown. He also played smart. His one interception was a pretty bad decision, but for the most part he did the right thing with the ball when there was no one open. He even showed some mobility on a few scrambles. All in all, he definitely earned the starting job for another week.
We also learned that Spurrier has been holding back for the past couple of weeks. I was impressed by the variety of formations and calls Spurrier made against Ole Miss. Who knew that we were capable of running plays other than HB screens? We saw a number of spread WR formations as well as a pretty effective I formation.
Spurrier also got more out of the running game than he had in previous weeks, which helped open up the passing game. We finally ran the ball to the outside a little and we had some success doing so. Mike Davis and Bobby Wallace look like a pretty reliable duo of tailbacks, although I doubt we'll see any 100 yard performances from either of them.
The offensive line played OK. I don't want to say well, because Smelley got smacked a few times and had to scramble to escape a beating other times. But Ole Miss brought a pretty powerful pass rush to the game, and our line gave Smelley time to throw for the most part. They also did MUCH better blocking the run, which had been a pretty sore spot so far.
My thoughts about the defense are mixed. We didn't have the kind of dominating performance I had hoped for. Ole Miss gained 361 yards and moved the ball with ease at times. I also would've liked to have seen us put more pressure on Jevan Snead, who had lots of time to throw most of the time.
However, I probably shouldn't have expected a dominating performance against the Rebels, who have some serious play makers in Snead, McCluster, and Hodge. And it's not like we didn't play well on defense. The first quarter was rough, but our guys settled down later in the game. They also came through big on turnovers. Nate Peppers ran a fumble back for a TD, and the fumble Emanuel Cook recovered on our goal line and ran back for 50 yards likely made the difference in the game.
All in all, this was a big win for a team that desperately needs some momentum. The game against Kentucky will be another tough game, so there's not much time to celebrate.