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USC's Norwood relishes prime time

Columbia, SC 9/19/09 Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestate.com ---South Carolina senior linebacker No. 40 Eric Norwood tries to get the crowd fired up in the second quarter during their game against Florida Atlantic at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC, Saturday, September 19, 2009.
Columbia, SC 9/19/09 Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestate.com ---South Carolina senior linebacker No. 40 Eric Norwood tries to get the crowd fired up in the second quarter during their game against Florida Atlantic at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC, Saturday, September 19, 2009.

Normally when a player shrugs off what seems like a huge opportunity, it appears to be an insincere attempt to take the pressure off.

But when Eric Norwood does it, he has a good case.

Yes, this Thursday's game against No. 4 Mississippi will feature Norwood, one of the best defensive players in the SEC, going against quarterback Jevan Snead, one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

It will be a chance for USC to do something special. For Norwood, however, what is left to accomplish?

Come up big on a Thursday night in front of a national audience? Done that.

Play against a former coach to whom he remains close? He's done that too.

Do it against a top 10 team? Also Done.

About the only thing left for Norwood is to get half a sack, making him the all-time sack leader at South Carolina. But that is a foregone conclusion - and Norwood has set his sights higher.

The senior has 26 career sacks, tied with Andrew Provence at USC. But having his name in the SEC record book seems to mean a lot to Norwood, who with two more would be on the league's top 10 list. Six more would tie him with sixth-place Reggie White, one of the all-time greats. Norwood also mentioned Georgia's David Pollack (fourth all time with 36), whom Norwood heard about while attending high school in the Atlanta area.

"It means a lot to me," Norwood said. "Just to break it in the SEC alone, it lets you know you're up there with some of the top-tier guys who have been the best pass-rushers in the SEC."

But sacks are becoming just a part of Norwood's SEC legacy. A look at his previous Thursday night performances shows that.

Two years ago, No. 9 Kentucky came to town unbeaten. Norwood, then a sophomore, returned two fumbles for touchdowns as USC pulled the upset.

Last year Norwood had his season-high 10 tackles in a Thursday night loss at Vanderbilt. And in this year's season opener, also on a Thursday, Norwood had two sacks as USC shut down N.C. State.

The unit has struggled the past two games, but Mississippi coach Houston Nutt remains concerned with the versatility of the Gamecocks defense, pointing to their ability to move Norwood around.

"When you've got a guy like Eric Norwood I don't blame them," Nutt said. "He's an end, he's a linebacker, he's a safety, he's blitzing. He does a lot of things."

Nutt's defensive coordinator, Tyrone Nix, knows all about Norwood. Nix recruited him to USC, and although he left before last season, the pair remain close and speak once or twice a month, according to Norwood.

Earlier this year when Norwood decided to reverse course and not enter the NFL draft, Nix was one of the people who served as a sounding board.

"He never told me to go (in the draft)," Norwood said. "He was helping me work through the whole situation. He's helped me through a lot of situations that have happened since I've been here."

Norwood didn't take it easy on Nix and the Rebels last year. He had a sack in a 31-24 Gamecock win in Oxford, a game that Norwood said "a lot of people seem to have forgotten."

The Gamecocks can remind the nation of that on Thursday. And Norwood could increase his star power.

Not that he cares a vast amount.

"I'm not really worried about that. I'm pretty sure everybody pretty much knows," Norwood said. "But I mean, even if they don't, it doesn't matter. But it's definitely a chance to go out there and make a statement team-wise and (as an) individual."

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