OXFORD, Miss. -- As South Carolina players danced and whooped it up in the southeast corner of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, chants of "USC!" drowned out Ole Miss' band playing "Dixie" on the other side of the stadium.
Quarterback Chris Smelley was the last player to leave the field, pumping his left arm as he jogged to the tunnel in front of the section of USC fans.
As long as the Gamecocks went between SEC victories, they wanted to soak up every bit of their 31-24 win Saturday over the Rebels.
Smelley threw for a career-high 327 yards and three touchdowns and the Gamecocks' defense recovered from a shaky start to help USC snap a six-game conference losing streak, which was the longest in the SEC.
It had been exactly a year since the Gamecocks (4-2, 1-2 SEC) last won in conference -- a 38-23 victory against Kentucky, next week's opponent.
"We really needed that one," said Steve Spurrier, who notched his 25th win to match Warren Giese for most victories by a USC coach in his fourth season.
The Gamecocks' best offensive performance came at the expense of Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, who spent three years on Spurrier's staff, but moved to Oxford in December rather than risk losing his coordinator's title at USC.
USC piled up a season-high 405 yards and punted once against an Ole Miss defense that played less man-to-man coverage than Spurrier expected.
"I didn't think they would go up and down the field on us like that. It was surprising," Rebels first-year coach Houston Nutt said. "They made some big plays. Their receivers caught the ball well and (Smelley) threw it well. But I thought we'd be better than that."
All-SEC receiver Kenny McKinley, playing for the first time since injuring his hamstring at Vanderbilt on Sept. 4, caught four passes for 58 yards. Tight end Jared Cook pulled down a 63-yard catch that set up a first-half score, while second-year receiver Jason Barnes introduced himself to the SEC with seven receptions for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
"Without watching the film, it's obvious they hit some holes in zone coverage," Nix said. "But if we were where we were supposed to be and doing what we're supposed to be doing, we may be a little happier right now."
Spurrier and Nix wished each other luck after the game, while several USC defensive players visited with their former coach.
"I know he's probably going on about it now, probably not too happy with it," said cornerback Carlos Thomas, whose interception with 1:08 left sealed the win. "We love coach Nix like he's still one of our coaches. But it's still a great win over him."
But USC's first win in Oxford since 1974 did not come easily.
While the Gamecocks' offense rediscovered its vertical passing game, the nation's top-ranked defense struggled early against Nutt's Wild Rebel formation, which featured direct snaps to back Dexter McCluster (99 yards receiving, 40 yards rushing and one TD).
Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2) jumped out to a 14-3 lead with a pair of first-quarter touchdowns, the first allowed by the Gamecocks this season. USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson switched to a three-man front to slow down Ole Miss' speed in the Wild Rebel look.
More importantly, the Gamecocks forced three turnovers, including a 29-yard fumble return for a touchdown by defensive tackle Nathan Pepper.
The turning point came in the third quarter with Ole Miss driving with a 21-17 lead. After McCluster pulled in a Jevan Snead pass at the Gamecocks' 6-yard line, safety Chris Culliver hit him and jarred the ball loose. Emanuel Cook scooped it up and returned it 52 yards to set up Barnes' second touchdown.
"That was the play that turned it around," Spurrier said.
USC players hope the win turns their fortunes around. After falling to Vanderbilt and Georgia by a touchdown each, the Gamecocks headed home with a 7-point victory on a day their defense gave up a season-high 361 yards -- 140 more than their national-leading average.
"The best thing that happened today is the kids finished. This was really the first game we'd been in where we were struggling at times defensively and had to respond," Johnson said. "If you ever want to see that with a group of kids, you have to see it in a real game. I thought they responded."
And stuck around to enjoy it.