Mississippi State’s efficient machine, the Dak Prescott-led Bulldogs offense, never altered course in a closer-than-expected win over the Kentucky Wildcats. It just featured a new leading man at times.
As well as Kentucky’s own offense played on Saturday, it could never find an answer on defense for what is the most efficient offense nationally. The Bulldogs thwarted the Wildcats’ final comeback attempt by taking an onside kick to the house, winning 45-31 to improve to 7-0.
This is nothing new for No. 1 Mississippi State opponents this season, although it’s typically Prescott leading the way. The touchdown machine has drawn never-ending comparisons to Tim Tebow — another Dan Mullen product from his days as Florida’s offensive coordinator — throughout the campaign and in this game he was once again a major factor. Prescott accounted for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns, but he was practically matched play-for-play by Kentucky’s Patrick Towles, who accounted for 466 total yards and four scores. There’s an argument to be made for Towles being the most productive — and valuable — quarterback on the field in Commonwealth Stadium.
But Towles didn’t have Josh Robinson.
Robinson has played a key role in the Bulldogs’ run attack through the first half of its conference slate, but in Lexington the 5-foot-9, 215-pound bruiser became a quasi-sensation, bouncing off tacklers and becoming the subject of comical Internet meme videos. The Bowling Ball, as the senior running back is affectionately (and appropriately) known, was the difference-maker for Mullen’s offense. It’s weird to say that on a team with arguably the leading Heisman contender, but it was true Saturday.
Robinson gained 198 yards on 23 carries, scoring two touchdowns and punishing Kentucky tacklers throughout.
His captivating run in the third quarter received the Star Mario treatment (for good reason) and his 73-yard touchdown run looked like it would seal the deal in the fourth.
Robinson now has four 100-yard games this season, three coming against SEC competition (LSU, Texas A&M, Kentucky). He’s on pace for more than 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns in the regular season alone, and that’s not including a bowl game and the possibility that Mississippi State could reach the conference title game in Atlanta. In a backfield that features a Heisman frontrunner, the "other guy" is cruising toward a possible 1,700-yard, 20-touchdown campaign. Think Mullen’s offense is clicking?
The Prescott-Robinson duo is making a very strong case for the top backfield combination in the country.
All of this is important because even when going against explosive offenses, which Kentucky’s has been this season with Towles behind center, the Bulldogs can stick to their strengths. Stopping the Wildcats was not an easy task on Saturday — the turnover battle was even and both teams put up 500-plus yards of offense — but with a 324-103 advantage in rushing yards, the Bulldogs held the ball for nine more minutes and were more consistent on third-down conversions.
In the final five games of the regular season, including two top-10 matchups with Alabama and Ole Miss, Mississippi State will need Josh Robinson to continue bouncing off every defender in sight.
Teams are going to continue to key on Prescott, but Mullen & Co. have a pretty good second option.