Arizona pulled off an upset in its season opener, beating San Diego State on the road to match its win total from the previous year. That result turned heads across college football, to the point that the Wildcats even got one (1) vote in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The UA hadn’t gotten AP votes since October 2019, when it sat at 4-1 only to lose the next 20 games.
The opponent for Arizona’s home opener, Mississippi State, got 16 votes after opening the season with a 49-23 home victory over Memphis. The Bulldogs return 16 starters from a team that went 7-5 in 2021.
To better understand MSU, we reached out to Landon Young of SB Nation sister site For Whom the Cowbell Tolls for some insight. These are his collected answers to our scattered questions.
AZ Desert Swarm: Arizona held its first opponent, San Diego State, to 62 yards passing. Now comes a Mississippi State offense that threw for 68 yards on the first drive against Memphis en route to 450 yards. What makes the Bulldogs’ pass attack so potent?
Landon Young: “Well, we did throw the ball 49 times. That certainly helps, but I attribute those 450 yards to Will Rogers and the depth Mississippi State has at the wide receiver position.”
Running backs had 162 receptions last season, compared to 211 traditional carries, but in the opener they hauled in only nine passes and ran it 30 times. Are the Bulldogs planning to actually run the ball more often this season, or was this more likely an anomaly?
“Those 34 rushing attempts won’t happen every game. Do I think we’ll run the ball this year? Yes, but I think Mike Leach knew we could shove Memphis’s defensive line around.”
Nine different receivers caught at least one pass against Memphis, with seven catching three or more. Is there a go-to target in this group, or will the wealth get shared all season?
“We count our running backs as receivers as well. So, we had twelve. That’s a stat I’m proud of. This team has several weapons at receiver, but I could see guys like Caleb Ducking, Rara Thomas and Rufus Harvey stepping up to be the studs.”
With so much attention paid to MSU’s offense, the defense probably doesn’t get its due. How would you describe the scheme, and who are the top players to worry about?
“It sure doesn’t. This defense is for real. I could see Mississippi State’s defense being the reason we win several games this year. Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett runs a 3-3-5 with a linebacker that could really be a defensive end. We have weapons all over the place, but those three linebackers we have in the middle are DANGEROUS. I would say that Jett Johnson leads that crew, but Tyrus Wheat has the most potential.”
Mike Leach came to MSU from Washington State, and thus his tactics (and antics) are very familiar to those of us in the Pac-12. In what ways, if any, has he changed since trading the Palouse for StarkVegas?
“He went out and got a defensive coordinator to coach alongside him. Zach Arnett is the best hire he’s made, and they are a dynamic duo. It’s obvious Leach and Arnett are running the show on the sidelines. Now, he’s still Leach. In his most recent press conference, he was asked about a player proposing to his girlfriend after the game and what advice would he give to that player, and Leach responded with ‘I’m too late. I would’ve told him to elope.’ Same Leach.”
Prediction time. Does MSU win a game west of Texas for the first time since 1983, or does Arizona get its second victory over an SEC team in school history and double its win total from a year ago? Give us a score pick.
“Mississippi State should win this game. Trust me, I know it’s a weird game, and weird games typically don’t end well, but this Mississippi State team is talented enough to go on the road and win. Mississippi State over Arizona 35-17.”