Arizona spent all week gameplanning to avoid death by 1,000 paper cuts. Instead it got done in by self-inflicted wounds.
The Wildcats lost 39-17 to Mississippi State on Saturday night in their home opener, done in by a combination of their own mistakes and the inability to cash in on the chances the Bulldogs gave them.
Arizona (1-1) turned it over three times, all on interceptions thrown by quarterback Jayden de Laura, who fell back to Earth after a strong 299-yard, 4-touchdown debut last week at San Diego State. He was 23 of 45 for 220 yards and a TD but was sacked three times and forced to scramble on countless other plays, opting not to take off despite numerous opportunities.
Meanwhile, MSU passer Will Rogers was 38 of 48 for 294 yards and four TDs, completing his first 15 passes in the second half but more importantly never forcing the issue. Rogers was intercepted once, on a drop, and Arizona recovered two fumbles, yet it turned those three turnover sword celebrations into just 10 points.
Arizona got into MSU territory on eight of 14 drives, starting three in plus-territory, yet scored only three times and were 1 of 2 in the red zone after scoring on all five trips there last week.
MSU (2-0) led 18-10 at the half and nearly doubled the lead on the opening drive of the third quarter on a 5-yard touchdown catch by Austin Williams. Rogers was 8 for 8 for 85 yards on that drive after throwing for only 103 in the first half.
De Laura was picked on the ensuing drive, opting to throw on a scramble to his left when he had room to run. But then one play later Jaxen Turner stripped MSU receiver Jamire Calvin and returned the fumble to the 4, setting up a 2-yard TD catch from Jacob Cowing to get Arizona within 25-17 with 7:37 left in the third.
The Wildcats finally sacked Rogers on third down on the next drive, forcing a punt, and drove from its own 6 to the MSU 30 before de Laura had a pass tipped at the line and picked off by Nathaniel Watson. Watson nearly returned it for a TD but Jonah Coleman chased him down and tripped him up at the 11.
The Bulldogs turned that into a 4-yard TD catch by Williams to make it 32-17 with 14:17 left.
Arizona’s third takeaway, a strip by Jerry Roberts that Hunter Echols recovered at the MSU 31, resulted in no points. Like many times before, de Laura had a chance to scramble for a first down on 3rd and long but threw into coverage in the end zone, and then on 4th down his dump off to Michael Wiley didn’t go for enough.
Wiley finished with 103 yards from scrimmage, catching four passes for 54 yards and rushing for 49 yards and a TD on six carries.
The Wildcats turned it over on downs again in Bulldogs territory with 9:16 left, and MSU put the game away with a 1-yard TD catch by Caleb Ducking with 3:18 to go.
With the game out of reach, Arizona inserted true freshman QB Noah Fifita for its final drive. He was 4 of 8 for 56 yards.
Arizona marched down the field with ease to open the game, going 75 yards in six plays with Wiley scoring on a 34-yard run to make it 7-0 just 2:03 into the game. The drive also featured tight end Tanner McLachlan, who had been put on scholarship the night before the opener, catching a 30-yard pass on a play-action rollout from de Laura.
That was Arizona’s only big run of the night. Including sack yardage, the Wildcats finished with only 40 yards on the ground after rushing for 162 at San Diego State.
MSU matched that score almost as easily, doing so mostly on the ground with 57 rushing yards including a 9-yard Jo’quavious Marks TD run. The extra point was missed, keeping Arizona up 7-6.
The Bulldogs took a 12-7 lead with 5:27 left in the first quarter on a 9-yard TD catch by Ducking, a score that was set up by a de Laura interception as part of a wild sequence which can’t properly be described any better than this tweet could:
This might be the most chaotic play of the day pic.twitter.com/88obmbKvon— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 11, 2022
After Arizona went 3-and-out and Kyle Ostendorp shanked a punt, giving MSU another short field, the Wildcats held the Bulldogs to a 38-yard field goal to go up 15-7 with 40 seconds left in the first quarter.
The UA got its defensive break on the next drive. One play after Turner nearly got his second interception in as many games, Treydan Stukes picked off a tipped pass and returned it to the MSU 28. Arizona had to settle for a 43-yard Tyler Loop field goal to get within 15-10 with 12:55 left in the first half, but it could have been worse because de Laura’s pass to Tetairoa McMillan in the end zone on third down was intercepted but MSU’s Emmanuel Forbes’ foot came down on the sideline.
Arizona held MSU to a 22-yard field goal in the final minute of the first half, extending the Bulldogs’ lead to 18-10, after facing first and goal from the 2, with Turner and Christian Roland-Wallace both making big plays on throws into the end zone.
The UA didn’t take a knee after getting the ball back with 33 seconds left, and after de Laura found McMillan on a deep crossing route for 24 yards down to the MSU 32 it was in scoring position with nine seconds left. But then de Laura slipped trying to avoid pressure, taking a 15-yard loss, and his jump ball into the end zone fell incomplete.
Arizona is back home next Saturday to take on defending FCS champion North Dakota State. The Bison (2-0) won 43-3 against North Carolina A&T on Saturday.