Lexington, Ky. — Mississippi State's recent slugfests with Kentucky have taught the Bulldogs that there's no such thing as a safe lead against the Wildcats.
And thanks to timely touchdowns by Dak Prescott, Josh Robinson and Christian Holmes, the nation's top-ranked team built a cushion culminating in another hard-earned victory over the Wildcats.
Prescott accounted for three touchdowns, Robinson rushed for two TDs and No. 1 Mississippi State (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) held on to beat Kentucky 45-31 on Saturday.
"I am very happy with the way our guys played today in a tough environment against Kentucky, which is a very good football team that gave us everything out there," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said after a win that wasn't truly decided until Holmes' 61-yard kickoff return for the clinching touchdown with 2:22 remaining.
"My first intent was to block, but I saw he didn't kick it far enough," Holmes said. "So instead of blocking, I just received the ball and took off. I couldn't let the kicker catch me."
Holmes' score on the short kick was the exclamation point in a wild game that stubborn Kentucky (5-3, 2-3) tied early and got within a touchdown another four times — the last coming on Patrick Towles' 4-yard TD run nine seconds earlier that made it 38-31.
Credit Heisman Trophy hopeful Prescott and Robinson, who answered with TDs on three occasions. Prescott ran for TDs of 2 and 11 yards and hit Brandon Hill for an 8-yard TD.
Robinson's 73-yard touchdown run early in the fourth for a 38-24 lead proved critical when Towles scored later in the quarter. His 12-yard TD run capped Mississippi State's 82-yard opening drive and set the stage for him to finish with 198 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Prescott chipped in 216 yards passing and 88 yards rushing on 18 carries. But he had to work to complete 18 of 33 passes as Kentucky sacked him three times and intercepted him once.
Robinson proved to be a beneficial option.
"It helps the offense so much," Prescott said of his teammate. "It helps out the run game with myself and the passing game. They have to respect Josh on the run because I can potentially run as well."
Mississippi State outgained Kentucky 542-504 and needed every yard.
Those big contributions helped the Bulldogs win their 10th straight game dating to last season. They also earned their sixth straight win over the Wildcats in tying the series at 21 wins each.
But typical of a competitive series in which four of the past six games have been decided by a touchdown or less, Mississippi State couldn't exhale until the final gun.
That's because Kentucky used big plays to stay close as Towles hit Demarco Robinson for a tying 67-yard touchdown in the first quarter and Javess Blue for a 58-yard TD late in the third. Towles' 48-yard run in that quarter set up his 10-yard run that brought the Wildcats within 24-17.
Towles finished with 390 yards on 24-of-43 passing and led Kentucky with 76 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Following the lead set early and often by Prescott, Towles and the Wildcats made the big plays they lacked in last week's 41-3 throttling at LSU. And it kept them within reach of Mississippi State.
"I'm not sure the country knew that we could play with anybody in the country, but we fought like I knew we would," Towles said of facing the Bulldogs. "We just didn't make enough plays."
Taking over after Kentucky punted on the opening drive, Prescott completed his first five passes for 56 yards to lead Mississippi State into Kentucky territory. But Prescott's biggest play was recovering his own fumble at the Wildcats 13 after a 3-yard gain, extending the drive and setting up Josh Robinson's walk-in touchdown on the next play.
Kentucky responded quickly with Towles' TD pass to Demarco Robinson that got the homecoming crowd of 64,791 back in the game. If going up to snag the high pass wasn't impressive enough, Robinson managed to keep his feet inbounds as he came down while shaking off the defender.
Mississippi State scored 10 straight points, converting Braylon Heard's fumble into Evan Sobiesk's 26-yard field goal and while Prescott added a 2-yard TD run. Prescott capped the Bulldogs' opening drive of the second half with a bullish 11-yard TD run for a 24-10 lead that still wasn't safe.
But it was one of several moments in which the Bulldogs managed to create distance.
(At) No. 24 LSU 10, No. 3 Mississippi 7: Bo Wallace's pass was intercepted by Ronald Martin in the final seconds, and Mississippi lost for the first time this season. Ole Miss was lining up for a potential tying field goal from 42 yards, but was called for delay of game. So the Rebels decided to run a play instead and Wallace threw his first interception in a Southeastern Conference game this season.
Soon after, fans were streaming onto the Tiger Stadium field.
Leonard Fournette ran for 113 yards, and LSU (7-2, 3-2) finished with 264 yards rushing against a defense that came in allowing 97.1 per game. Anthony Jennings' short touchdown pass to tight end Logan Stokes gave LSU the lead late in the fourth quarter.
Mississippi (7-1, 4-1) led most of the way, but mainly because LSU turned the ball over four times and missed a short field goal.
No. 4 Alabama 34, (at) Tennessee 20: Amari Cooper caught nine passes for a school-record 224 yards and scored two touchdowns to help Alabama to its eighth consecutive victory in the series. This game marked a return to Neyland Stadium for Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who coached Tennessee in 2009 and angered Volunteers fans by leaving for Southern California after only one season. Kiffin's offense produced touchdowns on four of its first five series — including Cooper's 80-yard touchdown catch on Alabama's first play from scrimmage — as the Crimson Tide (7-1, 4-1 SEC) raced to a 27-0 lead.
Tennessee (3-5, 0-4) got back into the game thanks to quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who provided a spark after entering the game on Tennessee's third possession. Dobbs helped the Vols cut the lead to 27-17 in the third quarter before Alabama's Derrick Henry stopped Tennessee's momentum with a 28-yard touchdown run.
(At) No. 5 Auburn 42, South Carolina 35: Nick Marshall ran for three touchdowns and passed for a score and survived a scare from the Gamecocks after Steve Spurrier made a succession of gambles that paid off.
The Tigers (6-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) finally stopped the onslaught of Spurrier, Dylan Thompson and fourth-down magic late in the game. Auburn burned off four-plus minutes from the clock after the first unsuccessful gamble before the Gamecocks (4-4, 2-4) made a stop at midfield for one more shot.
Thompson, who threw five touchdown passes and helped convert five straight fourth-down tries, took over at his own 15 with no timeouts and 1:08 left. Jonathan Jones made his second interception in the end zone on Thompson's last-play heave to preserve the Tigers' SEC and national title hopes.
The Gamecocks, an 18-point underdog, converted an onside kick and four fourth-down plays in their own territory.
(At) No. 10 Texas Christian 82, Texas Tech 27: Trevone Boykin threw a school-record seven touchdown passes and TCU showcased a new fast-paced offense by scoring the most points in its history. The Horned Frogs (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) beat their previous scoring high of 69 in the spread attack directed in part by co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, a former Texas Tech quarterback who spent the past four seasons as an assistant with the Red Raiders.
Boykin had two scoring tosses each to Josh Doctson and Deante Gray, who had a 92-yarder about 2 minutes before Ty Slanina caught a 57-yard touchdown that gave TCU 61 points midway through the third quarter.
Texas Tech (3-5, 1-4) rolled up 287 of the combined 512 total yards in the first quarter before fading with turnovers and special teams mistakes.
(At) No. 11 Kansas State 23, Texas 0: Kansas State's rapidly improving defense pitched the first shutout of Texas in more than a decade.
Matthew McCrane kicked three field goals, and DeMarcus Robinson and Charles Jones each ran for a touchdown to lead the Wildcats (6-1, 4-0 Big 12). Jake Waters threw for 224 yards, and Tyler Lockett had eight catches for 103 yards to climb another notch in the school record books.
Tyrone Swoopes was just 13 of 25 for 106 yards for the Longhorns (3-5, 2-3), who were shut out for the first time since a 12-0 loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 9, 2004. The blanking came just one week after they put up 524 yards of offense in a 48-45 victory over Iowa State.
No. 15 Arizona 59, (at) Washington State 37: Anu Solomon threw five touchdown passes in a game featuring the top offenses in the Pac-12. The freshman quarterback was 26 of 38 for 294 yards without an interception. Terris Jones-Grigsby added 107 yards rushing for Arizona (6-1, 3-1), which was coming off an off week after losing to Southern California.
Washington State (2-6, 1-4), also off last week, lost its third straight game.
Washington State's Connor Halliday, the nation's leading passer, completed 56 of 79 passes for 489 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions, and became the leading career passer in school history. Isiah Myers caught two touchdown passes for the Cougars.
Arizona scored 24 straight points in the first quarter, including two touchdowns by DaVonte Neal, to win for the fourth consecutive time in Martin Stadium.
(At) No. 19 Utah 24, No. 20 Southern California 21
Travis Wilson threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay with 8 seconds left to give Utah the victory.
Wilson put the Utes (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) in position for the winning touchdown when he was flushed from the pocket and scrambled 19 yards, diving as he approached the goal line. The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but was overturned on review — giving Utah the ball a foot from the end zone.
Devontae Booker was stopped just short on the next play before Wilson's touchdown pass on a sprint out to the right side — a catch that also was reviewed before it was confirmed.
After Adoree' Jackson returned the kickoff to the USC 28, the Trojans' last-gasp effort was snuffed when Cody Kessler was sacked by Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick on the final play.
Black-clad Utes fans streamed onto the field around some of the Trojans players, who stood motionless, stunned at another last-second loss.
Southern California dropped to 5-3 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-12.
(At) No. 21 Clemson 16, Syracuse 6: Cole Stoudt threw for 209 yards and a touchdown, Ammon Lakip had three field goals and Clemson won its fifth straight. The Tigers (6-2, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) overcame a spotty offensive showing with another strong performance on defense, holding the Orange (3-5, 1-3) to a season-low 170 yards of offense.
Stoudt, starting a second straight game for injured quarterback Deshaun Watson, struggled much of the game with two interceptions and a fumble. But he led a 73-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that ended with a 19-yard scoring pass to tight end Stanton Seckinger.
Lakip had kicks of 38, 18 and 41 yards, the last which put Clemson up for good, 9-6, in the third quarter.
No. 22 West Virginia 34, (at) Oklahoma State 10: Wendell Smallwood ran for a career-high 132 yards. Smallwood stepped in for Rushel Shell, who sat out with a foot injury suffered during a win over then-No. 4 Baylor last week.
Clint Trickett passed for 238 yards and two touchdowns and Mario Alford caught seven passes for a season-high 136 yards for the Mountaineers (6-2, 4-1 Big 12), who won their fourth straight and beat the Cowboys for the second straight year.
West Virginia won despite Kevin White's off day. The nation's leader in yards receiving per game was held to 27 yards on three catches.
Daxx Garman passed for 242 yards and James Washington had five catches for 87 yards for Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2).
(At) No. 23 Marshall 35, Florida Atlantic 16: Devon Johnson rushed for a school-record 272 yards and four touchdowns, and Marshall (8-0, 4-0 Conference USA) overcame its first halftime deficit of the season to extend its home winning streak to 12 games.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato threw the go-ahead score late in the third quarter to extend his Bowl Subdivision record of consecutive games with a TD toss to 40.
Johnson had touchdown runs of 58, 62, 66 and 7 yards. He broke the school record of 262 yards set by Ron Darby in 1988.
Florida Atlantic (3-5, 2-2) fell to 0-5 on the road.
No. 25 UCLA 40, (at) Colorado 37 (2OT): Quarterback Brett Hundley scored on an 8-yard keeper in double overtime. UCLA (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12) squandered a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter as Colorado tied the score on a 35-yard field goal by Will Oliver with 36 seconds remaining.
The teams traded field goals in the first OT. The Bruins then stopped the Buffaloes (2-6, 0-5) in the second OT and they settled for a 34-yarder from Oliver.
Hundley faked a handoff and went into the end zone untouched for the winning score.
The junior quarterback rushed for 110 yards. Hundley also threw for 200 yards and one TD pass, giving him 67 in his career and moving him one away from tying Cade McNown for most in program history.