A few quick thoughts from Kentucky’s gut-wrenching loss to No. 1 Mississippi State:

What it means: The close loss to Mississippi State showed last week’s 38-point loss to LSU was an anomaly, and not an indication of Kentucky’s flaws in 2014. The Cats hadn’t played a ranked opponent during their 5-1 start to the season, and the loss to LSU had many wondering whether their early season success was a product of great play or an easy schedule. Saturday’s game against the No. 1 team in the country showed Kentucky is for real, and that last week’s loss was just a bad night for a young team in a tough road environment. Kentucky gave Mississippi State a greater test than any other team so far this season, including No. 5 Auburn, and it was no accident either. These Wildcats are an emerging threat in the SEC East, and Saturday’s game was a coming out party of sorts, even though they lost.

What I liked: Kentucky’s resiliency against the No. 1 team in the country. The Cats trailed for most of the game, but never trailed by more than 14 points, matching Mississippi State tick for tack in a high stakes second half in the Bluegrass. Kentucky answered Mississippi State’s first score of the game, as well as each of its first two scores of the second half to prevent the Bulldogs from ever pulling away. Even when they trailed by 14 with fewer than five minutes remaining, Kentucky marched down the field and scored a touchdown to give itself a chance to regain possession and tie the game with time winding down. The Cats never rolled over against one of the toughest teams in the country, showing they believe they are good enough to compete with any team in the country.

What I didn’t like: Tackling (or lack thereof). Kentucky missed dozens of tackles in trying to slow down the Mississippi State offense, allowing tailback Josh Robinson to rush for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. The Cats missed six tackles on one Robinson run in the second half (CBS counted them for the viewing audience), and UK missed at least one tackle on seemingly 75 percent of Robinson’s carries on the afternoon. The Cats’ lack of sound tackling allowed Mississippi State to execute long, sustained drives, maintaining an edge on the scoreboard even as Kentucky continued to answer every score for most of the game.

Who’s the man: Patrick Towles had a career day in a losing effort for Kentucky, throwing for 390 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 76 yards and two more scores. Towles ran all over Mississippi State, extending plays and converting key third downs with his legs rather than his arms. He completed three passes of at least 55 yards in the loss, stretching the field against a suspect Mississippi State secondary. Most importantly, Towles did not commit a turnover on the day, allowing Kentucky to remain within striking distance until the final minutes of the game.

Key play: Towles ran for a touchdown to cut the Mississippi State lead to seven points at 38-31 with fewer than three minutes remaining in the game. The Wildcats still had two timeouts remaining, and they were one defensive stop away from regaining possession with a chance to tie the game and force overtime. Instead, the Cats elected to execute an onside kick, but the ball fell right into the hands of MSU linebacker Christian Holmes. Holmes’ recovery put Kentucky’s chances at an upset on life support, but the play didn’t end with the recovery. Holmes astutely ran the kick back for a rare onside return touchdown to extend the lead back to 14 and put the game on ice. In a game loaded with thrilling highlights, Holmes’ late touchdown cemented an MSU victory in Lexington, making it the key play of the game.

What’s next: Kentucky hits the road again next week for a showdown with SEC East foe Missouri in Columbia. The Cats are 0-2 on the road this season, and they trail Mizzou by two games in the SEC East standings after the Tigers’ win over Vanderbilt Saturday. Kentucky has lost back to back games for the first time all season, while Missoui will enter the contest on a two-game winning streak. The Cats are still one win shy of bowl eligibility, and more importantly a loss to Missouri would effectively kill their chances of winning the SEC East this season.