November 3, 2013 12:14:03 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The Mississippi State football team became everything it wasn't and never wanted to be in the 10 days since its last game.
MSU had five turnovers, had miscommunication from the sidelines, and went away from everything that had produced its four victories. No. 14 South Carolina capitalized by delivering a physical pounding to MSU in a 34-16 victory at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"If you're going to turn the ball over five times and go minus-5 in the turnover ratio in the SEC, I'd put your winning percentage at about 1 percent," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "You can't do those things and expect to win on the road."
MSU entered the game leading the Southeastern Conference with just six turnovers in seven games. But South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC) turned the five turnovers into 20 points in front of a sellout crowd of 82,111.
"They were very critical," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said of the turnovers. "We're a pretty good overall team, and it was neat to see our defense rise up and do some very good things."
The Bulldogs have lost six of their last seven conference games away from home and seven-straight games away from Davis Wade Stadium.
Mullen slipped to 2-22 as a head coach against schools ranked in The Associated Press Top 25, and 3-22 when the opponent leads after halftime. MSU is 5-10 in the month of November under Mullen, and likely won't likely be favored in three of its final four games this season.
The last time MSU (4-4, 1-3) defeated South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., was a 38-0 win in 1998. The last time MSU had five turnovers was in a 19-6 road loss at LSU on Sept. 15, 2011, when quarterbacks Chris Relf and Tyler Russell threw five interceptions.
"Turnovers are the story of this game," Mullen said. "You can look at it and say, 'What was the problem?', but it's a different problem with every single one of them."
MSU outgained South Carolina 385-307, but sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott (28 of 43 for 235 yards) threw three interceptions. Prescott rushed for MSU's two touchdowns and connected with Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis seven times apiece. But Prescott also had a fumble that helped the Gamecocks score more points than the final margin of victory.
Prescott's first interception led to a 43-yard touchdown pass from Connor Shaw to Shaq Roland that gave the Gamecocks a 14-7 lead. His second interception led to a field goal by Elliott Fry.
In the third quarter, MSU trailed 17-10 and had the ball at midfield, but defensive end Chaz Sutton hit Prescott and forced a fumble Sharrod Golightly recovered. Shaw made the Bulldogs pay for that turnover, too, hitting Damiere Byrd with a 6-yard touchdown pass.
In each of its four victories, MSU was a plus-4 in turnover margin. In its four losses, all to Bowl Championship Series schools, MSU is minus-5 in the statistic Mullen values the most.
"If you're going to ask me, 'What are we going to do differently?', probably not anything because we were one of the best in the nation in limiting turnovers," Mullen said. "If it were 5-0 turnovers the other way, I'll bet we win the game. I don't know that for sure, but flip the turnovers and let the game play out, I'm going to say we win the game."
With the Eastern Division title and a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game still a goal, South Carolina wrapped up its seventh-straight victory in the series, while MSU needs two victories to become bowl eligible.
"You look at what they've done here and Spurrier has done here with a sold-out stadium with an early kick and their fans stayed and were loud throughout," Mullen said. "They've established and built a program we're trying to catch up to. I think they have two years head start on us."
MSU, which ranked ninth in the league in plays 20 yards or more, was held to eight drives of three plays or less. With Shaw sick and injured, South Carolina did just enough with the gifts given to it.
"I think as you get better on defense and guys understand what they are doing we play faster, and when you play faster you can be more physical," South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.
Shaw, who was coming off a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback at Missouri, matched his career high with four touchdown passes to raise his record to a 14-0 at home. Shaw entered the game battling flu-like symptoms, a knee injury, and a shoulder problem.
"He wasn't as sharp as some of his game this year, but he felt fine," Spurrier said. "But as soon as he picked up his foot (for the snap), they would change the defense against us."
While Spurrier said his offense played "pretty poor a lot," the Gamecocks went without a turnover for just the second time in the last 15 games. MSU has forced only two turnovers in the past four games.
"We got a lot of three-and-out drives, but we just couldn't force any turnovers to get back in the game," MSU sophomore linebacker Bernardrick McKinney said. "They hit a few big plays, but the key today was not getting a turnover for momentum."
MSU will play Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and No. 12 Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2) in College Station, Texas, next week. It will be the Bulldogs' first trip to Kyle Field, and second game in College Station.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter