September 24, 2009

McCready: Rebels can only blame themselves

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Don't blame Thursday night on hype.

Don't blame it on polls, Sports Illustrated cover jinxes or media distractions.

Don't blame it on the rain or the Swine Flu.

Don't blame South Carolina's ??-? win over No. 4 Ole Miss on history or lack thereof.

South Carolina simply exposed Ole Miss Thursday night. Completely. Every weakness the Rebels have, the Gamecocks located, targeted and magnified.

The game wasn't as close as the final score indicated. It was a dominating performance on the Gamecocks' part.

South Carolina's Eric Norwood showed that sure enough, pass protection from the left side of Ole Miss' offensive line is a problem. Ole Miss couldn't block him. The Gamecocks' cornerbacks exposed the undeniable fact that the Rebels simply don't have the deep threat that Mike Wallace was a year ago.

Likewise, the Gamecocks' physical wide receivers showed that while Ole Miss' cornerbacks are much improved from a year ago, their lack of physical stature can be a problem.

Quarterback Jevan Snead was out of sorts all night, and that's being kind. Ole Miss didn't tackle well. Derrick Davis tripped on a fake punt run and landed one yard short. Marshay Green couldn't get past punter Spencer Lanning on what appeared to be a touchdown. Shay Hodge's holding penalty negated a Brandon Bolden touchdown run. The Rebels' performance was nothing short of a nightmare.

What has to be even more disturbing to Ole Miss at this point is the Rebels appeared flat Thursday. They appeared to be discombobulated and frazzled. In the third quarter, with the game getting away from them, the Rebels appeared to lose their composure.

For a team that won last season in Gainesville and Baton Rouge, two venues that far exceed Williams-Brice Stadium in terms of intimidation, it was an odd sight.

But that's the thing. This Ole Miss team isn't last year's. At least so far, it isn't as tough. It doesn't possess the leadership that team did. It lacks the charisma that team developed. Maybe all of those characteristics will come, but right now, they don't exist.

Ole Miss won its last six games a year ago, looking quite impressive in the process. It dominated LSU in Baton Rouge and whipped Texas Tech in Dallas. The Rebels' resurgence provided the media with a captivating story and the early top-10 ranking that made Thursday's spotlight so bright.

Just like that, all that's over now. The Rebels will fall precipitously in the rankings, as they should. The national media that chronicled their every move will ridicule the Rebels on Friday and then shift its focus in another direction. Somebody else will become the national media darling.

Ole Miss has to get back to work quickly. Another SEC road trip awaits. No. 3 Alabama, a physical machine of a team, will be in Oxford in a little more than two weeks. Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn and LSU are licking their chops after watching Ole Miss on Thursday night.

Ole Miss talked about winning a championship earlier this week. Technically, a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game remains a possibility. On Thursday, however, the Rebels looked like anything but a championship team.

They've got time to fix their myriad problems, but before they do, they'll have to look in the mirror. That's where they'll find the proper place to lay the blame for Thursday's disaster.

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