November 3, 2013 12:12:44 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Dan Mullen left a football game for the first time thinking he might have to coach sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott differently.
Until a 34-16 loss at No. 14 South Carolina on Saturday, Mississippi State's fifth-year coach allowed Prescott to figure out how to do things. Mullen was comfortable having the 240-pounder sort through defenses and situations that normally would make inexperienced players second-guess themselves.
However, after seeing South Carolina rattle, frustrate, and physically pound Prescott, Mullen admitted he may have to dial back his aggressive mind-set.
"Most of the time it was about him trying to make a play, and an experienced decision-maker would look at that and think, 'This is bad. I'm not going to make it any worse,' " Mullen said. "Young guys want to just go out and make a play. Sometimes you got to realize to cut our losses."
Coming into the game, Prescott had thrown only three interceptions, but he matched that total in front of a sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium crowd of 82,111.
"Our five second-half possessions included three turnovers and one with a stupid coaching penalty that caused us to move backwards," Mullen said. "Those types of things tend to nip you in different ways every week when things aren't going well."
Prescott's first interception came on a tipped pass into the arms of defensive back Skai Moore. The second one in the second quarter left Mullen shaking his head. Instead of using his legs to navigate through a zone blitz, Prescott flicked the ball to what he thought was a open receiver in the flat. The receiver was center Dillon Day, and the tipped pass went for an interception.
"That was really his only really bad decision of all the turnovers," Mullen said. "That's really hard to coach. It's hard to tell a kid to not try harder and not be motivated more to make a great play out of bad play. That's the toughest thing to teach and to learn."
Prescott, who is considered to be a better fit in Mullen's spread-option offense than senior Tyler Russell, was unable to make a final decision and often couldn't find proper footing. He finished 28 of 43 for 235 yards and ran for two touchdowns.
"We didn't do a good job of being focused, and that starts right here at the quarterback position," Prescott said. "It's not abut one thing but a combination of things that add up to everybody not doing their job on any play we ran today."
After receiving great field position to open the second half thanks to a botched onsides kick, Prescott reversed his field on a quarterback draw out of the shotgun and then lost control of the football for his fourth and final turnover.
"We had ups and downs all day, but that was a moment we needed the most to push through the rough part, and we just couldn't get the momentum back," MSU senior guard Gabe Jackson said.
Four plays later, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw found receiver Damiere Byrd in the end zone to extend the Gamecocks' lead to 24-10. From that moment, Prescott became a prime target for the Gamecocks' hungry defensive line.
"I wouldn't quite say things were faster today than they ever have been, but I just didn't get things down and make plays like I wanted to," Prescott said. "It's really hard to describe being in that moment and why things are different or not going your way."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.