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Reviewing Ole Miss at South Carolina: Gauging What It Means

The talk this morning is somewhat divided on what we should make of last night's win. For his part, our friend C&F is positive about our prospects, although with some hesitation:

It's not time to put South Carolina in the Top 15 just yet. But for the first time in a couple of years, the idea didn't seem completely laughable.

Unsurprisingly, others discount the significance of the win to Ole Miss being overrated. Here's Dr. Saturday:

He did have enough left to sprint toward the student section when it was over for a little communal goodwill; we'll see about his up-and-coming status soon enough. But if Ole Miss' biggest advantage coming in was at quarterback, that certainly doesn't look like the case coming out: If Garcia and South Carolina are still basically mediocre, what does that make Snead and Ole Miss?

I think there's a good bit of truth in both of these assessments. On the one hand, Ole Miss has problems, and beating them doesn't mean that we can beat Alabama or Florida. This was supposed to be a team with a high-flying offense. Those projections are seriously compromised now, and while most of the criticism is going Jevan Snead's way, I think the problems run deeper. Snead will get better. He's proven himself to be a reliable quarterback, so it's reasonable to believe that he can perform under the right conditions. However, the absence of those conditions last night should worry Rebels' fans. Ole Miss's offensive line wilted under the pressure of facing a high-quality defensive front, and Ellis Johnson's aggressive approach to handling Snead provided a blueprint for other SEC teams that have the personnel to attack the quarterback. This approach will, I think, work well for Alabama, Auburn, and LSU. Heck, even Arkansas might be able to put pressure on this line. Essentially, Ole Miss faces the prospect of being something like Clemson was last year: a team with good skills positions players but a porous line. Such a team won't last long against elite competition.

Continue reading after the jump.

This is all to say that the pollsters overraned Ole Miss at fourth in the country. Their line play will have to improve significantly if they're going to come anywhere near challenging for the Western Division crown. For that reason, I think it's valid to wonder whether or not we should be ready to say that this Gamecocks team is ready to make a run at a division crown and a major bowl bid. We need to beat a team that's better than Ole Miss to prove that's the case.

That said, I don't think you can do what Dr. Saturday is doing and toss the win out and call us mediocre, either. While Ole Miss may not be a great team, it takes at least a good team to prove that. A team with a lesser defense wouldn't have been able to expose the Rebels' protection in the way that we did. Moreover, while the numbers weren't as impressive as they were over the past two weeks, the offense played competent football against what appears to be a Rebels defense that's every bit as good as its offensive line is bad. I was thoroughly impressed with the ability of Ole Miss's front seven, which pressured us early and often, rung Garcia a few times, and led some gutsy stands in the red zone. However, we moved the ball against the Rebels fairly consistently until late in the game. Moreover, we never committed the inexcusable offensive blunder that has inevitably killed us in games like this over the past two years. True, we were never quite able to make the big play when we had chances to blow the game open. This team's red-zone efficiency is what's separating this offense from the truly excellent ones. However, this is a good offense, and it's one that should continue to improve as it matures.

With a defense that reasserted itself and an offense that is effective, you just can't call this team mediocre anymore. The win last night proved that we have a good team, and it means more than skeptics like Dr. Saturday think. It raised the bar for our expectations for this season. Like C&F, I still don't think it means that we're great. Like he also claims, though, I also don't think it's unreasonable to believe that we're closer to getting there than we've been in a long time.