LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) 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 Bulldogs win their 10th straight game dating back 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 where 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 game-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.