Steve Spurrier didn’t like much of what he saw from South Carolina’s offense Saturday. He was very pleased, however, that the Gamecocks defense looked like its dominating, old self against Mississippi State.
Connor Shaw passed for four touchdowns, Mike Davis moved past 1,000 yards this season and the 14th-ranked Gamecocks got five turnovers to defeat the Bulldogs 34-16 for their school-record tying 15th straight home victory Saturday.
"We couldn’t run it very well and we couldn’t throw it very well," Spurrier said. But "our defense played well and got the turnovers that sort of set us up."
It had been a long time coming for a group that had been one of the Southeastern Conference’s best defenses the past few years. The Gamecocks had collected only 11 turnovers its first eight games, but got five of them — four off Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott — to pull away in the second half.
The Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) 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’s 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 Shaq Roland, 6 yards to Damiere 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."
Davis had 128 yards and became the Gamecocks’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Marcus Lattimore ran for 1,197 yards his freshman season three years ago.
South Carolina won its seventh in row over the Bulldogs (4-4, 1-3).
Prescott threw three interceptions — he had just three in seven games coming in — and had a fumble. He did have TD runs of 1 and 11 yards, upping his SEC-leading touchdown total to 12.
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."
Mississippi State outgained South Carolina 378 to 305 and held the Gamecocks to 173 yards in the final three quarters. "But if you’re going to turn the ball over five times, go a minus-five in turnover ratio on the road in the SEC, your percentage to win is about one percent," Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. "You can’t do those things and expect to win on the road."
Shaw, who threw for 201 yards and three TDs after entering in the third quarter last Saturday, looked a bit off early as Mississippi State stuffed the Gamecocks on the opening series before jumping on top on Prescott’s 1-yard run. Prescott set up the touchdown two plays earlier with a 14-yard run to the South Carolina 1.
South Carolina quickly answered back, Shaw connecting with Roland on a 14-yard touchdown pass to tie things.
The Gamecocks took advantage of Prescott’s mistake for their next TD, linebacker Skai Moore collecting the tipped pass at the Bulldogs 46. Three plays later, Shaw and Roland hooked up again, this time for a 43 yard pass as the Gamecocks sophomore receiver slipped from a tackler to run uncontested the final 20 yards.
South Carolina’s defense rattled Prescott into a second interception on the next possession — by linebacker T.J. Holloman. But Shaw lost two yards on first down, didn’t see a wide open Rory Anderson in the end zone on second down and threw incomplete while being chased by defenders on third down, and the Gamecocks settled for Elliott Fry’s career long 44-yard field goal to go up 17-7.
Two plays into the second half, Prescott was crunched by defensive end Chaz Sutton and fumbled to Sharrod Golightly. Shaw capitalized with a 6-yard touchdown throw to Damiere Byrd.
Shaw got his final scoring pass on the Gamecocks next series, finding Jerell Adams for a four-yard TD to go ahead 31-10. The pass tied Shaw’s mark from 2011 when he had four touchdown throws in a 54-3 win over Kentucky — his first game after taking over the starting job from Stephen Garcia.