The Bulldogs led from wire to wire at Commonwealth Stadium, but it didn't come easy, needing an unusual onside kick return for a touchdown with 2:22 remaining before they could finally shake the upset-minded Wildcats and put the finishing touches on a 45-31 win.
Josh Robinson ran for a career-high 198 and two touchdowns, while Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott passed for 216 yards and one touchdown and ran for 88 yards and two scores. Mississippi State (7-0, 4-0 SEC) recorded 542 yards of total offense and needed almost all of them on a day when Kentucky came close to matching it with 504.
"Really proud of our guys today," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "Obviously, coming into a tough environment here at Kentucky against a very good football team that gave us everything they had out there on the field. They made plays all day long on both sides of the football, and I don't know if people are giving Mark (Stoops) enough credit for what he's doing here with this outfit.
"We had guys step up and make plays when we needed to make plays. We've been doing that all season. It's not just one guy. Josh Robinson does a great job carrying the ball and a great job carrying our team on his back and even carrying their team on his back."
Patrick Towles passed for a career-high 390 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 76 yards and two more scores to lead the Wildcats. The sophomore quarterback was credited with 123 yards rushing, but lost 47 via six sacks by the Bulldogs' aggressive pass rush.
Kentucky (5-3, 2-3 SEC) missed a second chance to get bowl eligible, but performed much better than last week's 41-3 shellacking at LSU. The Cats pulled within seven of the Bulldogs on three occasions in the second half (24-17, 31-24 and 38-31), but could never draw any closer.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the keys to the game:
WHAT WENT WRONG:
Mississippi State might be the nation's best team and showed why on Saturday. It wasn't the Bulldogs' best performance, especially from a defensive standpoint, but they still had enough weapons to win by two scores against an outstanding effort by the Cats. State is a team that will "stress you" in a lot of ways, UK head coach Mark Stoops said all week, and it backed that up with a balanced offensive attack that featured 326 yards rushing and 216 yards through the air. Kentucky needed a near-perfect performance to win this one, but didn't achieve that with some dropped passes on offense, numerous missed tackles on defense that led to big plays and another week of special teams blunders that led to 14 MSU points.
STAT OF THE DAY:
Towles almost became the first player in UK football history to pass for more than 400 yards and rush for more than 100 in the same game. He also had an 11-yard reception on a throw-back pass from receiver Garrett Johnson, giving him 477 all-purpose yards on the day.
"We got beat by a better football team. Give Mississippi State credit. They're a very good, strong, tough football team, deserving of the No. 1 ranking that they have. I appreciate our team's effort. We did not play well enough to win, to beat the No. 1 team in the country. I felt like our guys, they went about their business. Their minds were right. Their hearts were right. They tried the best they could. (The Bulldogs) were a better football team." -- UK head coach Mark Stoops
Kentucky hits the road for a matchup with Missouri (6-2, 3-1 SEC) who held off Vanderbilt 24-14 on Saturday in Columbia, Mo.