Coordinators -

A lot of SEC games are decided by three or four plays. That was the case Saturday when South Carolina rolled into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and walked away with a 31-24 conference win over Ole Miss.

At the end of the day, most SEC games come down to who makes the most plays and who doesn't commit football suicide with turnovers and mistakes.

In the South Carolina Gamecocks' 31-24 victory over the Rebels, it was a little of both.

The Rebel offense put a proverbial gun to its head with two critical, game-changing turnovers and the Rebel defense gave up far too many key plays for Ole Miss to come out on top.

That is basically the synopsis both Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin and Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix came up with after the high-killing loss.

"Until we learn to protect the football better, we are going to have games like that," Austin said. "We fumbled once that turned into a touchdown for South Carolina and then we fumbled deep inside their territory. Not only did we fumble inside their five, but they flipped the field on us with the ensuing return.

"Give them credit for forcing turnovers, but we can't do that and expect to win. Two critical, critical turnovers that essentially cost us the game. Yes, we are young at some positions and yes, we are learning but those kinds of mistakes are a tough way to learn."

Austin did not liken the game to the Vandy loss, where the Rebs turned it over six times and lost at the end.

"We didn't make as many mistakes today, but the ones we made were game-changers. Also, I thought Jevan (Snead) threw the ball well all day - he was very accurate for the most part - and was making good reads, unlike the Vandy game," Kent noted.

The Rebs are 1-2 in the SEC and arguably both losses can - in large part - be attributed to Rebel turnovers. What to do?

"We just have to keep harping to them in practice that there is nothing more important than holding on to the ball," Austin continued. "We have to get into the mindset of our players that nothing separates you from that ball. Know that defenders are going to be trying to strip it, have a sense of when to get down and cover the ball. Cherish the ball. Understand the situation you are in.

"I've seen enough turnovers inside the 10 at the worst possible times enough already this year. It's time for it to stop. On Jevan's fumble that they scooped and scored on, he's got to know when to call it a day and go down while protecting the ball. He just hung in there and tried to keep the play alive longer than he should have."

The Rebels scored 21 points in the first half and only 3 points after intermission.

"South Carolina played good defense. They were sound and they were good, tough tacklers, but we moved the ball on them throughout the game. We had a couple of lulls, but that is to be expected," Austin added. "To be honest, they didn't do anything differently on defense in the second half than they did in the first. They may have brought up an extra guy on run downs to have more in the box, but nothing we didn't work on or detect during the game."

Austin feels for Dexter McCluster, who once again was one of the workhorses and stars of the game but once again lost control of the ball with the Rebels going in for a possible game-changing score.

"It's not an issue of a guy being lazy or not caring. Dexter is a great player and an outstanding individual. He probably cares as much as anyone on the football team," Austin stated. "We ask him to do a lot and he always rises to the challenge, but when all is said and done, our players have to know they have to protect the football.

"We are not good enough to turn the ball over at the worst possible times and in the worst possible ways and beat good football teams. We're just not, so we have to maximize what we do have and be smart with the football."

The Rebel defense gave up 405 yards and the Gamecocks were able to convert 7-13 third downs. USC QB Chris Smelley looked like a wily veteran, completing 22-32 passes for 327 yards and 3 TDs.

"They made plays and we didn't," said Nix. "I have not seen Smelley play like that before. I think he got in a rhythm early by hitting a big play early in the game. I'm sure that gave him confidence. Their receivers made excellent catches, their OL protected him for the most part and they made plays.

"They were getting rid of the ball quickly at times and at times we'd get pressure but he'd scramble out of it and we wouldn't get him on the ground."

The Rebel pass coverage, without a lot of pressure on Smelley, was riddled.

"I didn't think our pass coverage was very good at all. It's obvious they found some holes in our zone coverage and we busted some assignments. We weren't where we were supposed to be and we weren't doing the things we were supposed to do often enough," he said. "We have to go back to work on everything.

"We missed tackles, we were not very good in coverage and they made some plays on us. That's not a good combination. We have to do a better job, period."

Houston Nutt talked about the Rebel defense being off balance. Nix concurred.

"We seemed out of kilter, flatfooted at times. They made some good calls where we were expecting pass and they'd call a run or vice versa. They mixed it up well and we didn't respond to it well enough," noted Nix.

The Rebs were hoping, coming off a win at Florida, to take care of business at home and go into number 2 Alabama on a roll.

Instead, it's back to the drawing board for the 3-3 Rebels, now facing a mountain to try to keep their heads above water.

Not an enviable position to be in, especially when it didn't have to be that way.

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