The Associated Press
The Meridian Star
COLUMBIA, S.C. —
Mississippi State and quarterback Dak Prescott opened the game according to plan, smoothly moving 60 yards for an impressive touchdown to jump out on top of No. 14 South Carolina.
"We knew exactly what they were doing beforehand. We went down (and scored) and that's how the entire game should have went," Prescott said. "We hurt ourselves. The first drive should have been like the rest of the game."
Instead, that's when things fell apart for Prescott and the Bulldogs (4-4, 1-3 Southeastern Conference), who turned the ball over five times in losing their seventh in a row to the Gamecocks, 34-16, despite a solid defensive effort Saturday.
Prescott threw three interceptions and had a fumble, leading to 20 points for South Carolina. The Gamecocks were outgained by Mississippi State overall and managed just 173 yards in the final three quarters.
His first interception led to a 43-yard TD pass from Connor Shaw to Shaq Roland that put the Gamecocks ahead for good, 14-7. Prescott's second pick turned into an Elliott Fry field goal.
The Bulldogs trailed only 17-10 at half and had the ball at midfield on a mishit kickoff by South Carolina's Landon Ard when Prescott was crunched by defensive end Chaz Sutton and fumbled the ball to Sharrod Golightly.
Shaw cashed in that mistake, too, with a 6-yard scoring pass to Damiere Byrd.
"We didn't do a good job of being focused and making the right play and that begins with me," Prescott said. "It's the little things we have to fix. Like I said it begins with me and we're going to get it fixed."
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said South Carolina's sold-out stadium and raucous atmosphere helped the Gamecocks' cause. "It forces other teams into making mistakes and that's how you win at home and become a contender in the SEC," he said.
It had been a long time coming for a South Carolina defense that had been one of the Southeastern Conference's best the past few years.
The Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2) got 20 points off the turnovers, including 10 in the third quarter as they went from a touchdown up to a 34-10 lead. It had been a frustrating time for defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who despite having the college football's top pro prospect in lineman Jadeveon Clowney, could not get consistent results from the defense.
South Carolina had to replace five senior linebackers off last year's team and Ward said it has taken time to get the new faces up to speed.
"We're settling down and coming to play defense the way we're used to around here," he said.
Shaw played quarterback just the way he always has — with an emphasis on results. He missed practice Monday and Tuesday with a virus and was not as sharp as usual. Still, the senior tied his career best with the four TD passes.
He had scoring throws of 14 and 43 yards to Roland, 6 yards to Byrd and 4 yards to Jerell Adams to move to 23-5 as South Carolina's starting quarterback. Shaw can tie Todd Ellis' school record for victories when South Carolina plays Florida here in two weeks.
"I don't keep up too much with career records," Shaw said. "It's good to have four touchdowns and I think we were 4 of 4 in the red zone."
Mike Davis rushed for 128 yards and became the Gamecocks' first 1,000-yard runner since Marcus Lattimore ran for 1,197 yards his freshman season three years ago.
The Gamecocks got themselves back in the SEC Eastern Division hunt with last week's 27-24, double-overtime victory at then No. 5 Missouri. They'll still need help from Missouri and Georgia to make the Georgia Dome next month, but should have some friendly confines to make as they finish the season with home games against Florida, Coastal Carolina and Clemson after a week off.
South Carolina's home streak is the second current longest in the country behind Michigan's 19 in a row.
The home win streak "is big," Clowney said. "We tied it. In two weeks, we're coming in here to break it."