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November 2, 2013

Opposing view: 'Turnovers were the story'

Mississippi State did almost everything it needed to do to escape Williams-Brice Stadium with a season-defining win over No. 14 South Carolina. The Bulldogs outgained the Gamecocks 385 yards to 307 and out-possessed them 33:46 to 26:14. They ran 24 more plays, tallied nearly twice as many first downs, punted fewer times but for more yardage, and converted a better percentage of third- and fourth-down conversion attempts. Mississippi State did almost everything it needed to do to beat South Carolina. Almost.

But the Bulldogs lost Saturday, and it was in large part because they came out on the wrong side of one statistic in particular: the turnover battle. Mississippi State handed the ball over five times, while the Gamecocks never once turned it over.

"If you're going to turn the ball over five times and go -5 turnover ratio on the road in the SEC, I'd put your percent chance of winning at about 1 percent," said Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. "You can't do those things and expect to win on the road."

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Mullen said he was disappointing to take the 34-16 loss on a day when the Bulldogs outperformed South Carolina in so many statistical categories, but said he wasn't shocked at the outcome. Mississippi State entered the game as one of the SEC's best teams in terms of protecting the ball, boasting an SEC third-best 0.57 turnover margin.

But the Gamecocks, who ranked 12th in the league in turnover margin, beat the Bulldogs at their own game, picking off Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott three times and recovering two fumbles.

"Turnovers were the story of the game," Mullen said. "We had six turnovers on the season coming in, five today."

Mullen said the coaches and team make it a point of pride to take care of the football, but said "We didn't do that today, so the result's not a shock."

Mullen said he couldn't point to one single cause of the Bulldogs' turnover troubles, but gave South Carolina's defense credit for hustling to the ball, tipping up passes and being at the right place at the right time.

"The ball bounces funny way sometimes," Mullen said.

Mullen said the disparity between the opposing quarterback's stats was an epitome of how the game went as a whole.

"Their quarterback goes 10 of 20 and throws four touchdowns, but our quarterback goes 28 of 43 and throws three interceptions," Mullen said. "In the end, that's the entire story of the game."

Mullen noted the Bulldogs' other mistakes that combined to cost them the game Saturday, namely their inability to come away with points on their final possession of the first half. Mississippi State drove down to South Carolina's 30-yard line, then took an 11-yard sack that knocked them out of field goal position and kept the Gamecock ahead 17-10 heading into halftime. The Bulldogs wouldn't recover in the second half, giving up three turnovers and only scoring once while South Carolina piled on 17 more points.

Mullen said he thought after seeing his team this morning that they were ready for the challenge South Carolina would present. And the head coach said he was happy with the way the defense frustrated Connor Shaw and the Gamecock offense, forcing seven three-and-outs and holding them 168 yards below their average output.

"I thought we had a great week of practice. I thought we had great preparation," Mullen said. "[The team was] ready to go. Yeah, I think you look at a lot of things during the game here and think we did a lot of really good things. I think if it was 5-0 turnovers the other way, we win the game."

But Mullen was quick to give the Gamecocks credit for the victory and for their program's turnaround under Steve Spurrier. Mullen said Mississippi State is working gradually toward a similar turnaround, working on expanding the stadium in Starkville, Miss., and trying to build the same atmosphere South Carolina has every Saturday.

"You give them credit. You look what they've done here, what coach Spurrier has done here," Mullen said. "Again, they come out here and it's a sold-out stadium.

"For an early kickoff, there's not an empty seat in the house through the fourth quarter. Their fans are making noise, cheering their team on. They've established and built a program, something we're trying to catch up to. I think they've had a couple years head start on us. That's something that we always preach on. You want to build a program."

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