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Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill soars in the air over Kentucky defender Brandin Echols during second-quarter action against Kentucky on Saturday. Hill rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries in the SEC victory.

STARKVILLE Kylin Hill and Garrett Shrader ran wild as Mississippi State survived a late scare from Kentucky on Saturday night.

Mississippi State beat Kentucky, 28-13, at Davis Wade Stadium in the SEC opener for the Bulldogs. Hill rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns while Shrader rushed for 125 yards on 11 carries.

The Bulldogs (3-1, 1-0) got an early spark when Starkville’s Willie Gay Jr. intercepted a Sawyer Smith pass on the fourth play of the game and ran it back 52 yards for a touchdown to put MSU up 7-0.

It was Gay’s first defensive snap of the season after he was suspended for the team’s first three games.

“I think Willie is one of the top linebackers in the conference and in the country,” MSU coach Joe Moorhead said. “He’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s athletic, and he plays with great passion. … He played a great game today for the time he was in.”

Following the defensive touchdown, that spark carried over to the offense. MSU scored two touchdowns in the second quarter to put the Bulldogs up 21-3 before halftime. Hill scored both touchdowns in the quarter, from 12 and 2 yards.

On the two scoring drives, Shrader was 7 of 7 passing for 63 yards and had four rushes for 57 yards to set up Hill’s touchdowns.

‘Stay humble’

“I told him that I was proud of him,” Hill said of Shrader. “He came in and controlled the offense. I told him to stay humble, it’s your game. He just took over.”

Kentucky (2-2, 0-2) battled back in the third quarter with a Kavosiey Smoke 2-yard touchdown, but the Mississippi State defense held strong on the next two possessions.

The Wildcats drove 72 yards on nine plays, but missed a field goal on its next possession. The next drive, Kentucky drove 55 yards on 11 plays that resulted in a 29-yard field goal by Matt Ruffalo with 4:32 left in the fourth quarter to make the score 21-13.

“I think you’re seeing an elevated level of performance from the veteran guys who have played a lot and seeing incremental improvement from the younger guys, …” Moorhead said. “Coach Shoop and the defensive staff do a great job putting the kids in position to be successful.”

Following the field goal, Shrader led the Bulldogs down the field to put the game away.

Shrader rushed for 71 yards on three carries on the drive, including a big 49-yard gain on 3rd down. His last run set up a 1-yard touchdown by Hill, his third TD of the game that put Mississippi State up 28-13 with 1:39 left in the game.

“I was just doing what I was supposed to,” Shrader said of the last drive. “I was trying to get the first down, and that’s when we really need it. I made a decision to keep it, and it worked out alright. I just tried to make a play.”

dalton.middleton@journalinc.com

Twitter: @DLMiddleton8

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