Latest News

Rebels ready to prove themselves

Mississippi football coach Houston Nutt congratulates linebacker Patrick Trahan (7) and offensive lineman Rishaw Johnson (75) as they leave the field following their victory over Southeastern Louisiana after their NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi football coach Houston Nutt congratulates linebacker Patrick Trahan (7) and offensive lineman Rishaw Johnson (75) as they leave the field following their victory over Southeastern Louisiana after their NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Houston Nutt's first Thursday night game against South Carolina did not make a lasting impression.

The Mississippi coach hopes this week will be different.

During a news conference Monday, Nutt told reporters this week's game against the Gamecocks would be first on a Thursday night, apparently forgetting Arkansas' 28-6 victory against USC in Little Rock in 2003.

But Nutt understands what beating the Gamecocks in the nationally televised game on ESPN would mean to Ole Miss, which has climbed to No. 4 in the AP poll - its highest ranking since 1970 when Archie Manning was the Rebels' quarterback.

Asked what a victory would mean to current Rebels quarterback Jevan Snead, a Heisman Trophy hopeful, Nutt said it would be more significant for the team.

"There's nothing like winning your first conference game. It would be huge," Nutt said. "It's big for everybody. It only helps Ole Miss. When you win, and when you have good things happen to you, especially on national (television), it happens for the entire program. It's not just for one person, it's for everybody."

Though the Rebels have an eight-game win streak that is tied for the nation's second-longest, an early open date and severe swine flu outbreak have prevented Ole Miss from gaining momentum.

After beating Memphis 45-14 in their opener, the Rebels were off the following week - a scheduling quirk that proved beneficial when 30 players, including Snead, came down with the swine flu.

Ole Miss was healthy enough to drill Southeastern Louisiana 52-6 last week, although Snead conceded the Football Championship Subdivision school did not provide a true test.

"Anytime you start out with your first SEC game, that's when you know you're getting into it, and that's when it really counts," Snead said. "Not that the last two didn't, but this is conference ball and it's what you look forward to."

Snead leads the country's third-highest scoring offense, although the former Texas player is off to a slow start. He ranks in the bottom half among SEC quarterbacks in passing efficiency and yards per game.

"I do feel like this is a chance for us to prove ourselves and just show the world what we can do," Snead said. "I feel like we've made a lot of improvements over the last two games and hopefully just keep that rolling."

Nutt had no trouble recalling last year's 31-24 loss to USC in Oxford, which featured a career day from former Gamecocks quarterback Chris Smelley (327 yards and three touchdowns) and two critical fumbles by the Rebels.

USC defensive tackle Nathan Pepper returned a fumble 29 yards for a touchdown. The Rebels' other fumble came after they had driven inside the Gamecocks' 10-yard line in the third quarter.

"We made some mistakes and hurt ourselves in a bunch of cases," Snead said. "But at the same time, they came up with some big plays and just played hard and played fast every single play."

Pepper, who is questionable with a high ankle sprain, is one of several injured players on USC's defense. Ole Miss fullback Andy Hartmann is out with a knee injury, but All-SEC defensive end Greg Hardy will play after missing last week's game with an ankle injury.

"We're aware of the kind of athletes they have and the kind of game coach (Steve) Spurrier likes to play," Nutt said. "You've got to be at your best, and the team that makes the fewest mistakes is the team that's going to win."

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC

  Comments