Mississippi coach Houston Nutt did not need to look at a game film to know why his team lost to South Carolina 16-10 Thursday night.
"We didn't block No. 40," said Nutt, referring to Eric Norwood.
The senior linebacker, who had a game-high 10 tackles, led a USC defense that limited the Rebels to 248 yards, their lowest total since the 2007 season. Ole Miss, which also had an eight-game winning streak dating to last season snapped, opened this season by scoring 97 points in winning its first two games of the season against Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana.
But the Rebels could only manage 10 points against the Gamecocks, who limited quarterback Jevan Snead to 7-of-21 passing and 107 yards, a career low. He was sacked four times, twice by Norwood and twice by defensive end Cliff Matthews. Snead, who likely saw his Heisman Trophy hopes vanish, said a combination of factors contributed to the lack of offense.
"They played great defense, and they played physical," Snead said. "And we didn't play as well as we can. I was disappointed in my play."
Nutt said it did not help that the Rebels were missing two starters, but he kept coming back to Norwood's play.
"Eric Norwood's a real guy. He's relentless, and you really have to keep four hands on him," Nutt said.
The Rebels fell behind 16-3 in the third quarter before they held USC to five consecutive three-and-outs. Snead's 45-yard touchdown pass to Markeith Summers in the fourth quarter then cut the lead to 16-10.
"I really thought our guys hung in there and fought. We could have let go of the rope," Nutt said.
But they could not muster another scoring drive despite some solid running by Dexter McCluster, who gained 68 of his 85 yards in the fourth quarter after moving from flanker to tailback.
Nutt regretted not getting the ball in McCluster's hands more in the first half.
"We had plans to get the ball to Dexter, but we had too many three-and-outs," Nutt said. "Every time we'd think of the next play, it'd be third down again. It got us off track a little bit."
Offensive tackle Bradley Sowell, who watched Norwood run past him mush of the night, insisted he did not care about losing his team's No. 4 ranking.
"I'm glad it's gone so we can get back to working and win some ball games," Sowell said. "You can't really pay attention to that anyway. I'm glad it's over with so everybody can just stop talking about it and play ball."
His quarterback disagreed on that point.
"I try to do the best I can no matter what ranking we have," Snead said. "That's how I like it. I like to be on top."