UK Football

Top-ranked Mississippi State holds off Kentucky, 45-31

Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Ryan Timmons (1) could not pull in a potential touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that would have brought the Cats to within 7 points as #1 Mississippi State defeated Kentucky 44-31 on Saturday October 25, 2014  in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Ryan Timmons (1) could not pull in a potential touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that would have brought the Cats to within 7 points as #1 Mississippi State defeated Kentucky 44-31 on Saturday October 25, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Maybe if Kentucky could've tackled better.

Maybe Kentucky should've been able to hold onto the ball in the end zone on that fourth down play.

Maybe if the desperation on-sides kick would've landed in different hands.

Maybe if those things had happened — among countless others — Kentucky would have been able to pull off a monumental upset of top-ranked Mississippi State instead of falling 45-31.

"I don't know," Coach Mark Stoops said. "Would have, could have, should have. But we had some opportunities."

It was heartening to see his UK team bounce back from a 41-3 shellacking at Louisiana State, but it was disheartening to see them get so close and not be able to close the deal.

"We have to play our very best to beat the No. 1 team in the country," Stoops continued. "We didn't, and they had a lot to do with that. They're a very good football team."

Kentucky kept it interesting, cutting the Bulldogs' 14-point lead early in the second half to seven points twice late.

The final time came with 2:31 to go on a Patrick Towles 4-yard run, his second rushing touchdown of the game, to make it 38-31.

The Cats (5-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) lined up for an onsides kick and the near sellout 64,791 at Commonwealth Stadium was primed for an upset.

But Landon Foster's kick went into the hands of Christian Holmes, who took it 61 yards for a touchdown to end the hope.

"Those aren't great odds getting on– side kicks, but we were within seven points of the No. 1 team in the country," Stoops said. "Certainly we need to do things better."

Starting with run defense. For the second straight game, the Cats surrendered 300-plus yards on the ground, this time 326 yards on 51 carries. The Cats' defense allowed a season-high 542 yards of offense.

"It's real frustrating," defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree said. "We had a lot of chances to make stops on defense and score on offense and do our job."

Mississippi State playmakers had plenty to do with that, including running back Josh Robinson, who had a career-high 198 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.

He opened the game with a touchdown and added a key 73-yard run early in the fourth quarter to extend the Bulldogs' lead after the Cats had pulled within a touchdown, 31-24, on Javess Blue's 58-yard pass from Towles.

"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," MSU Coach Dan Mullen said.

But Robinson wasn't alone.

"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."

That one guy that most pundits focus on for Mississippi State, Heisman Trophy frontrunner Dak Prescott, did plenty to help the Bulldogs.

Prescott completed 18 of his 33 passes for 216 and a touchdown and ran 18 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

In his most complete game, Towles went toe-to-throw with Prescott, passing for 390 yards and two touchdowns while running for a career-best 76 yards and two touchdowns.

"Patrick competed," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "He competed. Really excited about how he raised his level."

But Towles was frustrated that it wasn't enough.

He was frustrated that each time the defense would get a stop and the Cats needed a touchdown to tie it up there would be a three-and-out.

"We just didn't make plays," he said. "That's the whole theme of the night: we got opportunities to make plays, but we didn't. I'm sure either I missed a throw or something like that."

Brown called those empty possessions when Kentucky had the momentum game deciders.

"We had two, maybe three opportunities there in the second half were we went to a seven-point game and the place was loud," Brown said. "It was a great atmosphere: South Carolina or better as far as the atmosphere goes. I think both of those possessions we go three-and-out. That ended up being the difference in the game."

Even for a UK offense that put up 504 yards, it was frustrating. It was those missed opportunities, those missed tackles, those little things that showed the difference between the No. 1 team in the nation and a team still trying to figure out how to win.

"We fought and it wasn't good enough," Towles continued. "They're a really good team. They're the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. We made a lot of plays, but we just didn't make enough."

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