South Carolina coach Lou Holtz would never admit it, but Mississippi presents a very favorable matchup for his team.
The 25th-ranked Gamecocks and one of the nation’s top defenses will try to take advantage of struggling Mississippi when the SEC foes meet at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.
Since squandering a 16-point lead in a 20-16 loss to then-No. 3 Georgia on Sept. 11, South Carolina (4-1, 2-1) has won three straight by a combined 71-13 score.
During the streak, the Gamecocks have allowed only one touchdown. Take away the 20 points South Carolina surrendered to Georgia, and opponents are scoring fewer than five points per game.
“This is a different defense from last year,” linebacker Ricardo Hurley said. “Our guys are hungry.”
South Carolina allowed 26.2 points per game during a disappointing 5-7 season in 2003.
While South Carolina’s defense ranks second in the SEC and seventh nationally, Mississippi (2-3, 1-1) is scoring 21.2 points per game to rank 10th in the league. The Rebels are seventh in the conference in passing yards (203.8) and 11th in rushing (144.8).
Mississippi jumped out to a 43-14 lead against South Carolina last season in Oxford before holding on for a 43-40 victory. The Rebels, however, no longer have quarterback Eli Manning, who threw for nearly 400 yards in that game, and Ole Miss needed late comebacks to beat marginal opponents Arkansas State and Vanderbilt for their only two wins this season.
“Right now, we are only concerned about South Carolina,” Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said. “We know it will be tough to go over to their place and beat a good football team, but I think we have a bunch of competitors who get pumped up for challenges like this.”
Backup quarterback Syvelle Newton rushed for two third-quarter touchdowns and the Gamecocks held Alabama to 210 total yards in a 20-3 victory at Tuscaloosa last week.
“We’re now going to play our fourth conference game and we’re still alive in the conference race,” Holtz said. “It’s nice to say that.”
Starting quarterback Dondrial Pinkins aggravated his bruised right shoulder after going 2-of-6 for 32 yards, and watched the second half from the sidelines.
An MRI Monday revealed that Pinkins has a deep bruise, and he’ll be re-evaluated later in the week. Newton would make his second career start if Pinkins is unable to go Saturday.
The upcoming schedule doesn’t provide any rest for the Rebels, who will face four ranked opponents in their next five games starting Saturday. Mississippi’s next three contests are against No. 25 South Carolina, 17th-ranked Tennessee and No. 6 Auburn.
“If we have the right kind of coaches on this staff and the right kind of student-athletes, they will be ready for this challenge,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s all we need to worry about this week.”
The Rebels, who beat Arkansas State by 55 last season, trailed the Indians by 1 at halftime Saturday before rallying for a 28-21 victory.
Mississippi allowed 381 yards off offense to Arkansas State one week after allowing 397 in a 37-32 loss to Wyoming.
“The thing you have to ask yourself is, ‘Are we playing as hard as we can?”’ Cutcliffe asked. “There are still some questions we are asking ourselves along those lines.”
A loss Saturday would leave Mississippi with a 2-4 overall record for the first time since 1994, and a 1-2 conference mark for the first time since 1997.
Ole Miss has won the last four meetings with South Carolina, last losing to the Gamecocks on Oct. 20, 1979.