STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State squad, a surprise playoff contender last season behind the offensive engine of quarterback Dak Prescott, has had troubles all season. Trouble establishing the run. Trouble sustaining drives. Trouble giving up the big play on defense.
But not on Saturday.
On Saturday, Prescott looked like last season’s Heisman Trophy-contender, passing for 348 yards and three scores while rushing for 117 yards and three more, all season highs.
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Mississippi State (6-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) had 586 total yards, a season-high in conference play, and forced three turnovers on defense.
”You talk about playing complete games,” Mullen said. ”Certainly our best performance in all three phases this year. It’s a win we can really build off of as we enter this next phase of the season.”
Kentucky (4-3, 2-3) moved the ball, finishing with 423 total yards, but struggled once it got into Mississippi State territory.
”Obviously not a very good night,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said.
Taveze Calhoun had two interceptions, and Brandon Holloway, De’Runnya Wilson and Darrion Hutcherson each taught a touchdown pass for Mississippi State.
Prescott threw 288 consecutive passes, dating to last season’s Orange Bowl, without an interception before being picked off in the second quarter.
Kentucky’s Patrick Towles completed 23 of 42 passes for 218 yards with two interceptions and one rushing touchdown – a 2-yard run that made it 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
But the Bulldogs responded as Prescott scored from a yard out.
”The guys were really giving me running lanes,” Prescott said. ”It was something I wanted to do. It’s something I have to do going forward.”
The Wildcats tacked on a field goal and led 10-7 at the end of the first quarter, but then Prescott hit Wilson for a 13-yard touchdown early in the second before the night reached its atmospheric peak late in the first half.
With 3:05 left, Kentucky’s Austin MacGinnis missed a 48-yard field goal attempt, and Mississippi State quickly capitalized. Prescott engineered a 5-play, 69-yard drive in 1:27 and hit Brandon Holloway for an 8-yard touchdown. Four plays later Taveze Calhoun intercepted Towles and, after a short drive, Prescott ran 20 yards for another touchdown.
”They had a really good tempo,” Kentucky linebacker Josh Forrest said. ”Every time they got a first down, they were running to the ball. That was a really big factor.”
MacGinnis made a 48-yard field goal just before the break and Mississippi State led 28-13 at halftime.
”It was a tight game, and it really shifted there and gave us the momentum,” Mullen said.
The momentum never shifted back.
In the second half, Kentucky squandered a first-and-goal with a series of penalties and had to settle for 32-yard field goal. The Bulldog offense responded immediately, as Prescott hit Darrion Hutcherson for a 13-yard touchdown.
Prescott rushed for another touchdown in the fourth quarter.
”Dak’s going to take what they give him,” Mullen said. ”Sometimes he’s the first read, sometimes he’s the third. But what we’ve got is a quarterback that’s comfortable making good decisions on the field.”