Mississippi State, playing for the first time ever with the #1 ranking, improved to 7-0 on the season and 4-0 SEC. The Wildcats are 5-3, 2-3, and still working for bowl eligibility. The win was State's sixth-straight in the series, the longest winning streak over any SEC opponent since a 1941-48 success stretch against Auburn.
With Mississippi State deferring, Kentucky had first turn with the ball and got the first first down too as quarterback Patrick Towles kept on 2nd-and-five for eight. Towles tried to comeback with a big deep strike and had a target coming open on the post. Fortunately for State the wind hung things up long enough for CB Jamerson Love to break things up at the Bulldog 15.
The Bulldogs did much better with their first turn, not only moving the chains early and often but putting up points. With QB Dak Prescott distributing the ball, particularly RB Josh Robinson and TE Malcolm Johnson, they ground deep into Kentucky territory. The drive almost ended too early as Prescott lost the handle on a keeper and had to fall on his fumble at the 11-yard line.
That left a third-and-short to continue, but Robinson did better. He broke the first level and had nobody to bother him en route to the end zone at 8:38.
Kentucky had a quick answer. Towles evaded pressure to scramble for one first down, then again looked for a long pass. This time he found Demarco Robinson on the right sideline. Robinson managed not only to spin off CB Tolando Cleveland’s grasp but stay in bounds too. He was also able to outrun LB Zach Jackson’s reach and hit the goal line at 6:25 for the 7-7 tie.
State tried to get it all back immediately, with Prescott’s bomb for WR De’Runnya Wilson going a little too long. A rattling hit on WR Joe Morrow forced a punt, with P Devon Bell’s big kick fumbled. Before a Dog could get there the ball rolled out at the 12-yard line.
They came up with another sort of fumble soon enough anyway, as on second down Braylon Heard lost the ball and LB Benardrick McKinney recovered at the 19. State couldn’t turn it into a touchdown though Prescott did run for first down at the Wildcat seven. Two negative runs and an incompletion in the end zone, where State was flagged for an ineligible receiver anyway, forced the field goal try. PK Evan Sobiesk was good from 26 yards at 2:41.
The quarter ended with Kentucky about to punt, after an interesting defensive move. With 3rd-and-8 at the Wildcat 27, coordinator Geoff Collins removed a safety and inserted a fifth defensive lineman instead. It produced a nine-yard sack from DT Kaleb Eulls before the squads swapped ends. The poor punt did roll nicely for downing on the State 32.
This only meant the Dogs had a little farther to go for the touchdown. A 14-yard throw to WR Fred Ross and 11-yard run by RB Nick Griffin served to get it going too. With first down on the Wildcat 30 WR Gabe Myles was supposed to throw the ball back to Prescott; wisely he tucked and kept rather than risk an interception.
A 12-yard throw to Wilson had State on the eleven, with RB Ashton Shumpert taking two blasts down to the two. Prescott called his own number for the vault of right guard at 10:20.
Starting from their 25 the Wildcats put together their first real drive, netting three first downs against the 1B Bulldog defense. Once the ball reached the MSU 38 the 1A unit returned but they were pushed back too, as Towles scrambled for first down at the 17. Three pass plays netted nothing with Love breaking up one ball in the end zone and S Deontay Evans holding coverage there on third down. The 34-yard field goal at 6:18 made it a 17-10 scoreboard.
Robinson had rested the previous series. He returned for consecutive carries of nine and 10 yards, then on second down Prescott had to keep the ball. It was wise and impressive as he bounced off one tackle and ripped out of another for a 38-yard dash to the Wildcat 25. Two incompletions and a one-yard scramble left third down on the 24 and PK Logan Cooke tried the long (for State) field goal. It was wide left at 4:00.
Nothing came of Kentucky’s next turn as on 3rd-and-10 DE Preston Smith got to Towles. State took over on their 38 (yet again) and immediately allowed a nine-yard sack of Prescott. Wilson turned a short catch into 18 yards and Robinson dove for first down at 0:55. But it might’ve been better had they tried running out the rest of the period. Because Prescott was drilled while throwing, the duck intercepted by Josh Forrest at the 33-yard line and Prescott shaken-up in the process.
The Wildcats had all three timeouts and used two of them, along with a third-down throw to Ryan Timmons on the sideline at 0:03 to rush the field goal team out. The 50-yarder was wide so State still had the 17-10 advantage for halftime.
The Bulldogs didn’t exit their locker room until a minute before kickoff. Whatever was discussed so long worked, though after two incompletes it was 3rd-and-10 on the 25. Ross got open on the third throw for 13 yards, then Robinson took over. He pounded ahead for gains of 11, 11, 12 yards.
State barely beat the play clock on 3rd-and-6 but Kentucky did the favor of jumping the snap for a much more makeable conversion, by Robinson. A reverse-run by WR Gabe Myles got five, then Prescott kept up the middle. He should have been stopped by safety Ashley Lowery for not much, instead the Bulldog spun out of the grasp and kept enough balance to maintain momentum across the goal at 11:54.
Towles matched that almost entirely on his own efforts, beginning with a 48-yard keeper to the Bulldog 38. He threw for a couple more first downs, then took a sack—but more importantly did not force a risky pass--on second down. So the ball was in his hands still on third down at the ten to bolt up the middle for touchdown at 8:33.
Kentucky very nearly got the ball back in striking distance again as on third down Prescott was stripped and had to save a turnover by falling on the fumble. Bell’s punt rolled to the 22. Three Towles passes went un-caught, the first knocked aside by DT Chris Jones. Disaster nearly struck anyway as return man Graham had his obligatory once-a-game drop of a punt, but this one he got back to first.
There was no nonsense to State’s response. Though what did ensue was an absolutely all-time highlight run by Robinson breaking tackles from one side of the field, escaping another to run in reverse when he already had a first down, and sweep around the entire other end for a 22-yard gainer. Prescott hit WR Robert Johnson for a ramble down to the 23-yard line, and Wilson drew interference from Nate Willis in the end zone.
With first and goal at the eight, TE Brandon Hill used his size to advantage over safety A.J. Stamps for the touchdown catch at 4:44. It was Hill’s first catch of any sort since the UAB game, and came at the cost of leaving the game hurt. But his team had a 31-17 lead.
And needed it. Because four snaps later the Wildcats were back within a score. On second down at their 42, Towles had time to see Javess Blue get a step on LB Zach Jackson. The catch was inside the 30 and Blue wasn’t caught with the touchdown at 3:32.
Clutch catches by Ross (nine) and WR Fred Brown (19) had State back across midfield and down to the Wildcat 35 with first down. There though Prescott couldn’t find anyone on third down and took a sack as the quarter ended. When it resumed he was going down on an incompletion giving the home team possession on their 35.
They were punting it back shortly, largely thanks to DT Kaleb Eulls and DT Nick James caving in protection for a second down sack. Graham fielded this punt and was taken down promptly but his team had the ball.
As well as Robinson. He lost a yard on second-and-short, but given another chance turned third down into the day’s big play. Breaking through left guard he lost one linebacker and suddenly was just about in the clear. Just about, because feeling heat from behind he cut left on the SEC logo at the 25-yard line and got to the goal at 11:47.
His defense backed it up. Not immediately as Kentucky did move the chains once, but not twice as DE Preston Smith sacked Towles on third down to force the punt. State only burned 3:39 off the clock, leaving almost seven more minutes for Kentucky to make something else happen. It seemed they’d failed when Timmons bobbled Towles’ 4th-down pass from the Bulldog 19 under pressure from S Kivon Coman, not gaining control until a foot hit the end zone sideline.
But given another shot at 3:56 Kentucky flew downfield in just six snaps. Towles kept it himself for the four-yard touchdown at 2:31 which set up an obvious on-sides kick.
It came right to LB Christian Holmes who caught it cleanly. Then started running. And kept running, and running, and shedding tacklers, and staying inbounds, until he finally found the right pylon at 2:22. His unique ‘return’ touchdown finally broke Kentucky’s back, as LB Matt Wells sacked Towles on third down and the fourth down pass didn’t gain enough ground.