BOZICH | Kentucky delivers best shot, but Number One Mississippi - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Kentucky delivers best shot, but Number One Mississippi State survives

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) –Three-and-out on Kentucky's 45-31 loss to Number One Mississippi State at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday.

1. TOE-TO-TOE -- It was everything Mark Stoops could have wanted after he decided to become Kentucky's football coach nearly two years ago – a practically packed house of 64,791 as relentlessly loud as this place has been since Rich Brooks walked the sidelines.

Brooks, John Calipari and women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell at mid-field for the start of the fourth quarter, priming the crowd for an upset of the team that has been ranked atop college football the last two weekends.

That was not fake juice. This was a one-possession game into the final quarter, before Josh Robinson, State's remarkable running back, crackled for a 73-yard touchdown run that gave the Bulldogs a two-touchdown lead with less than 12 minutes to play. State's 61-yard return of an on-side kick for a touchdown with 2:22 left sealed it.

"We got beat by a better football team," Stoops said. "We had some opportunities. We can play better. We need to play better.  Nobody's going to give you any victories.  Nobody's going to feel sorry for you."

Sympathy is not what Kentucky (5-3) needs as the Wildcats chase the one victory they need to become bowl eligible. Stoops and his program need time, another recruiting class, more toughness across both lines and additional experience in games like this.

Kentucky took big-time shots from coach Dan Mullen's formidable team-- and then looked as if the Wildcats could play snap-for-snap with a visiting team that believes its season will end in the four-team national playoff.

Make a note of this: The Bulldogs beat Auburn by 15 in Starkville.

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State's quarterback, played like a guy who will make a trip to New York City when the Heisman Trophy is presented in December. He ran for a pair of touchdowns and passed for another.

Patrick Towles, Kentucky's quarterback, played like a guy who is just as tenacious as his grandfather, Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher. Towles also showed that he could run (two TDs) or pass (two scoring throws). He threw for 390 yards and ran for another 76.

Robinson was the difference, dancing for 198 yards on 23 carries while scoring twice. The Bulldogs tripled Kentucky's rushing yardage, delivering 326 yards on the ground. In the final 20 minutes, the Wildcats had the ball twice trailing by seven points. But the offense could not deliver.

"Seeing (Robinson) in person, he was very, very tough," Stoops said. "He was compact, low to the ground.  He was very strong.  Great balance.  Very tough runner."

2. BUILDING A PROGRAM – Today Mississippi State is number one. Three years ago the Bulldogs were merely 7-6 – in Mullen's third season in Starkville. He averaged nearly six losses over his first five seasons. You could find his name on several Hot Seat lists before this season began.

How did Mullen flip the MSU program from persistent plodder into legitimate contender in the SEC West?

Not by dazzling the recruiting gurus. In the SEC West, all the recruiting love still goes to Alabama, Auburn and Louisiana State.

I checked Mississippi State's recruiting performance at Rivals.com over the last five seasons (2010-2014). How many five-star recruits did Mullen sign?

One – defensive lineman Chris Jones. Jones starts, but ranks 15th on the team in tackles.

One.

Here is the breakdown on State's 121 commitments over the last five seasons: 1 five-star; 14 four-stars; 87 three-stars and 19 two-stars.

That's correct: More two stars than four- and five-stars combined.

Prescott and Robinson? Both three-star catches.

 "Give Mississippi State credit," Stoops said. "They're a very good, strong, tough football team.  Deserving of the No. 1 ranking that they have."

3. UP NEXT – The Wildcats visit Missouri (6-2) in Columbia next Saturday. The Tigers won the East Division of the Southeastern Conference last season – and they're contenders again this season, despite a surprising struggle with Vanderbilt Saturday in a game Mizzou won, 24-14.

At 3-1 in the league, Missouri trails only Georgia, which is 4-1 in conference play. Kentucky is 2-3 in the league. The Tigers' only SEC loss was at Georgia (34-0). Their non-league loss still registers as SEC's most embarrassing moment this season – a 31-27 home loss to Indiana.

The Wildcats have lost both games against Missouri since the Tigers joined the SEC – 33-10 in Columbia in 2012 and 48-17 last season at Commonwealth Stadium.

"Our team is strong," Stoops said. "They're strong in the mind.  They're strong in the heart.  We're not perfect.  We're a work in progress.  I have no problem with their attitude or what they're doing.  These are pretty good football teams we're playing."

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