But…the lowlights dimmed everything. Prescott threw three interceptions, or as many as he'd had caught by the wrong team in the preceding seven games combined; and lost what proved the decisive turnover of the day. His second-snap fumble of the second half was turned into a South Carolina touchdown, 24-10 lead, and control.
Like any good field general, Prescott didn't just accept blame but sought it. "It starts with myself," he said. "It's just everybody doing their job; making the right block, doing the right route being big on the catch. It begins with me and we're going to get that right." Starting with a fast review on the flight home and presumably some evening soul-searching for how things went so wrong, so often.
Especially the fumble, where Prescott ran into a pile as usual but didn't protect the ball. This was an utterly uncharacteristic mistake for a guy used to contact. Besides, he'd been hit plenty on called keepers and scrambles without a mistake.
"It was terrible, I've got to protect the ball better, do a better job of hitting the hole I'm supposed to and not get myself back in all that junk." As it missing a possible crack to one side that would have put him within a stride of first down, an extended drive, and who knows what else in a one-score game.
For that matter Prescott was beating himself up over how the first half ended. Having reached the 30-yard line with three timeouts to get at least in field goal range as well as take some shots downfield, State botched it completely. Prescott began it by getting sacked and grounding the ball in the process. The half ended with the field goal team trying to run onfield while Prescott, who'd thrown an over-middle pass caught to keep the clock moving, tried to set up a spiking.
Coach Dan Mullen blamed himself for not handling the last half-minute rightly. So did Prescott. "It was just bad management and I'll throw that on myself too. It's something we'll learn from."
For all the gaffes Mullen thought his sophomore quarterback handled the mental and emotional strains "Pretty good. Obviously you get frustrated, he was frustrated. And the only terrible error I saw him make was the second interception that he should have taken a sack." This was the ugliest of the interceptions too, where under back-side pressure Prescott threw to the first white jersey available. It belonged to OC Dillon Day, not an eligible receiver at all. Worse, Day tried to make the catch and succeeded in batting it in the air to where South Carolina's T.J. Holloman could catch the carom.
Prescott didn't admit to having panicked or such. Mullen didn't think in those terms either. In fact, "I'll be honest, that's a hard one to coach," he said, meaning in preparation. When coaches spend all week practicing their guys to make plays, instilling the need to sometimes just eat the ball seems counter-intuitive. "Here's a kid, I want to make a play," said Mullen.
Prescott did make plays. But it was the mistakes he intends to learn more from now. "And we'll be ready for practice tomorrow."
TURNOVER TURNAROUND: It will be the game's easiest theme yet bears repeating. A Mississippi State team which had committed just six total turnovers (with a SEC-low one fumble) lost the ball five times Saturday. Besides Prescott's three picks and fumble, WR Robert Johnson was stripped after a catch for the fifth turnover.
State came into this game not only leading the SEC in fewest fumbles but tied for the NCAA lead with Virginia Tech and Florida State. That stat and status was lost along with the game.
"You can't do those things and expect to win on the road," said Mullen. "Besides that it's disappointing, there's a lot of good things that we did. The offense did pretty good job on third down against one of the top defenses in the league. We came out, our defense I thought played really well. A couple of critical breakdowns and we're put in some tough situations."
Indeed, South Carolina scored four times, for 20 points, off the turnovers. For their part the Gamecocks lost the ball not once, not even close. Mullen's eyes and ideas inevitably turned that direction.
"You look at a lot of things during the game. Boy, we did a lot of really good things. I'll be honest, if it was 5-0 turnovers the other way I'm going to say we win the game. I don't know that for sure but just flip the turnovers, just let the game play out the rest of it, I'm going to say we win the game."
Given their lack of turnovers before one game can't be called trend. But can these mistakes point to any tendencies? "You can look and say what is it, what is the problem?" Mullen said. "There's a different problem on every single turnover. It's something we've preached on obviously. You say what are we going to do differently? Probably not anything differently because we're one of the top teams in the country minimizing turnovers coming into the game. We're just going to look at everybody, the mistakes they made, and get it fixed."
Disturbingly too, State hasn't forced a turnover in its last two SEC games.
GOING SOLO: Prescott played the entire offensive game, and paid a physical price with some heavy hits. "The loss hurts more than all of it. But I'm alright."
An obvious question by late third quarter was why not let senior QB Tyler Russell get some turns. The former starter sprained an ankle during his one series against Kentucky. Mullen said Russell was cleared to play this game, and did practice. But, "With a sprained ankle, again in a situation that if he didn't have to play he wasn't going to. Which will allow him to be very healthy getting into next week.
"If we'd had to get him in the game to play today there was a good chance he'd miss two to three days of practice next week again. So the fact he didn't have to, we just didn't do that. So we expect him to be much healthier next week."
NOT CLOWNEYING AROUND: His stat line wasn't much to see; two solo tackles, an assist, a pass batted down. Not quite the numbers expected of an All-American and likely first defensive draftee in 2014. Still there was no doubting that the simple presence of Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was a constant in MSU minds.
At the same time, Bulldog blockers weren't obsessed with #7. Yes, said OG Gabe Jackson, who had his share of meetings there on State's left side, he was game-planned for. "He's one of the best defensive ends we've faced. We didn't go overboard with it, just a few things."
And to a large extent it worked as Clowney didn't take Prescott down. The only sack was by fellow d-lineman J.T. Surratt, though there were plenty of hurries. It had to be among the best career performances so far by oft-critiqued LT Blaine Clausell.
"It was all in the gameplan, they were ready for that matchup and Blaine did a good job," Prescott said. "(RT Charles) Siddoway, and they managed the game."
State only got one sacking, too, as MLB Benardrick McKinney dropped Connor Shaw for a 13-yard loss. It was McKinney's first sack of the season. McKinney spent more contact-time with Gamecock back Mike Davis, who gained 128 yards on 15 rushes. "I got him one time," said McKinney of one particular tackle. But another time when they met, hard, "I felt it a little bit. He's a good back."
KICKING AROUND: State announced the same starting lineup as in the last game…but that didn't include specialists. Because both the first-team kickers were different, or at least in a different role.
That was the case for Devon Bell, who after two games alternating at punter took the job over entirely at South Carolina. It worked out well for the sophomore; on five punts he averaged 47.6 yards. Included was a 62-yard, close to fifty of that in-air before allowed to bounce and downed at the ten-yard line. It was the longest Bulldog punt since the 2010 season, against Kentucky.
"Devon is a great worker, he's a great punter for us," said McKinney. "He gave the defense field position to work with." Bell also averaged 65 yards on his four kickoffs, with two touchbacks and the other two returned out of the end zone.
Meanwhile Bell's placekicking duties of the last 20 games were turned over to Evan Sobiesk. The former walk-on had worked before this season, hitting a 24-yard field goal against Troy and a pair of PATs too. This time it was on a SEC stage, and Sobiesk didn't disappoint on his first such try. He pushed through a 38-yarder in the second quarter, and made his only PAT as well. State went for two on Prescott's fourth-quarter touchdown and the pass was low.
Dressed but not participating was Ray Guy Award nominee Baker Swedenburg, also the fifth-most effective punter in program history for average.
Mullen praised both specialists. "They both did an unbelievable job today. I wish here was a magic for it. on Friday we have a statistical analysis , it sounds pretty boring, of who did what in practice during the week." The same statistical analysis that in the open date, with many more kicks, Bell reportedly went 27-of-28…only to miss against Kentucky, albeit into a wind.
The promotion of Sobiesk was by the same system, Mullen explained. "He missed two field goals during the week and Devon missed three or four. The bye week was bigger and I really studied it. But I looked at the percentage, he'd won the field goal battle, Devon had won the punting battle. We don't have much of a kickoff battle, we don't have anybody else around with a leg as strong as Devon's. We have one new walk-on, I can't think of his name, but he kicks some out every once in a while."
GOOD GRACES AGAIN…: FS Nickoe Whitley returned to action, as well as his starting role, Saturday. This was after the senior was ejected in the second quarter against Kentucky for drawing two unsportsmanlike penalties on one series worth 30 yards. Whitley had three tackles, giving him 205 for his career; and broke up one pass. However he couldn't get a grip on a Gamecock receiver after a sideline catch, spinning off as Shaq Roland went on in for the go-ahead touchdown.
WR Brandon Holloway also returned to active status after missing a game with an undisclosed injury. TE Brandon Hill, hurt last game, did not travel. The only Dog hurt during this game, OC Day, was helped off in the fourth quarter but returned.
…AND, NOT: Also not making the trip was DT Quay Evans, who did not dress for Kentucky either. "Same as it was," Mullen said of his status. "Same as it is, he was suspended for that last game, he's doing things to earn his way back onto the varsity part of the team. And we'll see how that goes."
Evans made off-field news last week with an arrest, for driving violations. He ran a campus stop sign, was found to not have a drivers license, and interfered with a ‘parking device' according to sources. The ‘arrest' was a legal formality of sorts but still resulted in a mugshot that was made available to media. Mullen clearly didn't think it worth any headlines, much less printing the picture.
"He ran a stop sign. If that's major news, that's major news."
MSU-ELLANEOUS NOTES: Senior RB LaDarius Perkins became just the third Bulldog ever with over 4,000 all-purpose yards…State lost a 14th-straight game to a ranked opponent, since 2010…Mullen's record against SEC East teams is 9-4…With two rushing touchdowns the MSU offense has 20, two more than the '12 offense scored in 13 games…Prescott now has scored 25 career touchdowns rushing, throwing, and receiving…The Dog defense held South Carolina to 1-of-11 on third downs, a week after limiting Kentucky to 4-of-18 conversions…State nearly double the Gamecocks for first downs, 23 to 12; but South Carolina made more of their snaps netting 5.7 yards per, and 14.7 yards for each completed pass.