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Rogers, opportunistic defense lead Mississippi State to homecoming win over No. 12 Kentucky

Bulldogs improve to 5-3.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State sophomore quarterback Will Rogers completed 36 of 39 passes for 344 yards and one touchdown and the MSU defense had four takeaways as the Bulldogs defeated No. 12 Kentucky 31-17 on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium.

Rogers set a Southeastern Conference record by completing 92% of his passes as the Bulldogs improved to 5-3 (3-2 SEC). The Wildcats fell to 6-2 (4-2 SEC).

In addition to Rogers’ 25-yard TD pass to freshman wide receiver Rara Thomas, the Bulldogs scored on two rushing TDs from sophomore running back Dillon Johnson, a rushing TD from sophomore running back Jo’quavious Marks and a field goal by redshirt senior kicker Brandon Ruiz.

Marks finished with 20 carries for 58 yards rushing and a TD to go with nine catches for 57 yards receiving, while Johnson finished with 41 yards rushing and two TDs to go with 30 yards receiving.

Sophomore receiver Jaden Walley led MSU with 95 yards receiving on six catches, while redshirt sophomore receiver Makai Polk made five catches for 51 yards.

The Bulldog defense held the Wildcats to 216 total yards, including 150 through the air by Kentucky junior quarterback Will Levis and 66 on the ground. MSU held junior running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., the leading rusher in the SEC, to just 34 yards rushing on eight carries.

The MSU defense also capitalized on Kentucky’s three interceptions and one fumble by scoring 14 points off turnovers. Redshirt junior safety Shawn Preston Jr., senior safety Jalen Green and redshirt junior defensive lineman Cameron Young came away with interceptions, while redshirt junior linebacker Jett Johnson recovered the fumble.

The Wildcats struck first when redshirt senior receiver Josh Ali returned a punt 74 yards for a TD to give Kentucky a 7-0 lead with 7:14 left in the first quarter. Kentucky increased its lead to 10-0 with 12:14 left in the second quarter when redshirt senior kicker Matt Ruffolo made a 41-yard field goal.

The Bulldogs responded with a pair of 75-yard TD drives that were capped off with a 7-yard TD run by Marks and a 9-yard TD run by Johnson to give MSU a 14-10 lead at the halftime break.

A 27-yard field goal by Ruiz then gave MSU a 17-10 lead with 6:34 left in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs then turned a third-quarter fumble into a 1-yard TD run by Johnson and a third-quarter interception into a 25-yard TD pass from Rogers to Thomas to go ahead 31-10 with 2:51 to play in the quarter.

The Wildcats ended the game’s scoring with a 17-yard TD pass from Levis to sophomore wide receiver DeMarcus Harris to make it a 31-17 ballgame.

The Bulldogs return to action next Saturday when they hit the road to face the Arkansas Razorbacks at 3 p.m. CT.