Chris Smelley. The quarterback threw for a career-high 327 yards and tied his career high with three touchdowns, a performance that should quiet the calls for Stephen Garcia. Smelley led a 95-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that was USC’s longest in nearly two years.
Jason Barnes. A few days after Steve Spurrier compared the redshirt freshman to Sidney Rice, Barnes made several Rice-like plays. The wide receiver, who set career highs with seven catches for 76 yards, survived a helmet-removing hit on a 20-yard touchdown reception and pulled down a 6-yard fade pass for a touchdown.
Emanuel Cook. The Gamecocks’ designated hitter finished with a career-high 14 tackles, but the strong safety’s biggest play came on his first fumble recovery. With Mississippi leading 21-17 and driving in the third quarter, Cook picked up Dexter McCluster’s fumble and returned it 52 yards to set up a touchdown.
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What went right
It was a big-play day for USC receivers, whose longest catch entering the game was 34 yards. The Gamecocks had three receptions longer than 25 yards, including Jared Cook’s 63-yarder. USC won the turnover battle (3-1) for the first time this year. The three takeaways: Nathan Pepper’s 29-yard fumble return for a touchdown, Cook’s return and Carlos Thomas’ interception to end Mississippi’s last possession.
What went wrong
The Gamecocks could have put the game away earlier if not for poor short-yardage execution. Spurrier is thinking about scrapping the tailback dive on fourth-and-short. USC averaged 2.2 yards on 35 rushes. Spencer Lanning’s lone punt was a 9-yard shank.
Eric Norwood’s two tackles for loss gave him 32.5 in his career, second behind USC all-time leader Andrew Provence (35). Norwood notched his 15th sack and will move past Cecil Caldwell into third place with his next sack. ... Ryan Succop grabbed sole possession of second place on USC’s career scoring (209 points) and field goal (40) charts. Collin Mackie holds both records with 72 field goals and 330 points.
Cook sprained his right ankle on his long catch and aggravated the injury on USC’s next-to-last series. Spurrier expects Cook to play against Kentucky.
The Gamecocks allowed a season-high 361 yards to lose their spot as the nation’s top-ranked defense. USC fell to sixth nationally, allowing an average of 244.7 yards a game. But Spurrier was pleased with the way the defense adjusted Mississippi’s Wild Rebel formation. The switch to a four-linebacker look neutralized the Rebels’ speed.
Kentucky, 4-1 after a 17-14 loss at No. 2 Alabama, is banged-up on its offensive line. Right tackle Justin Jeffries is out with a knee injury. Meanwhile, Wildcats coach Rich Brooks said Jess Beets and Stuart Hines, who have alternated at right guard, will undergo MRIs on their knees to determine if they have cartilage damage.
— Joseph Person