Mississippi State and Arizona opened with easy victories over FCS opponents, but the competition gets stiffer when the Power 5 schools meet Saturday in a non-conference game in Starkville, Miss.
The Bulldogs (1-0) of the Southeastern Conference beat Southeastern Louisiana 48-7 in Starkville last week in the first game for the program since the offseason death of head coach Mike Leach. Mississippi State, which is moving away from Leach’s pass-heavy Air Raid attack, showed a renewed commitment to the run, gaining 298 yards on 39 rushes while passing 29 times for 227 yards.
“The competition level takes a big jump, and it starts this weekend,” Bulldogs coach Zach Arnett said. “On offense, we’ve got to finish better. Defensively, we got to run harder and make tackles.”
The game is a rematch of last season’s Week 2 matchup in Tucson, Ariz., when the Bulldogs won 39-17.
Arizona (1-0) of the Pac-12 figures to be more mature now on offense, with second-year starting quarterback Jayden de Laura leading an attack that has a deep group of running backs and two likely NFL receivers — speedy slot Jacob Cowing and tall outside receiver Tetairoa McMillan.
de Laura scored on a 53-yard run in last Saturday’s 38-3 win over Northern Arizona, and coach Jedd Fisch suggested his quarterback would not have been able to make that play last season.
“I don’t know if he would have been as fast as he is now. He ran a zone read play and pulled it … and took it,” Fisch said. “I just don’t know if he had that same burst as he does now.”
The Wildcats might be short-handed in the secondary, with the status of nickel Treydan Stukes (apparent concussion) unknown until later in the week. Safety Gunner Maldonado will sit out the first half due to last week’s targeting penalty.
Mississippi State senior quarterback Will Rogers, who has 10,916 career passing yards, should have another weapon this week after wide receiver Zavion Thomas sat out the opener due to an ankle injury. He was one of the nation’s top punt returners last season, averaging 13.5 yards per return.
–Field Level Media