No. 4: Will playing in Davis Wade help the Bulldogs vs. the Arizona Wildcats and their explosive offense?
Mississippi State plays two “Wildcats” this season, and both of them appear on this list. Arizona took a nice step forward in 2022 under Jedd Fisch, improving from 1-11 to 5-7. The biggest reason for the jump was their offense. Zona averaged 30.8 points per game and ranked 21st in Offensive SP+. Their 462.4 yards per game average was 20th nationally.
QB Jayden de Laura was equally one of college football’s most exciting and frustrating players last season. He finished 3rd in the Pac-12 in passing with 3685 yards and 25 TDs. And while not a big time runner, he showed a great ability to evade pressure and added four rushing TDs. On the flip side, his 13 INTs was worst in the Pac-12. De Laura was the epitome of a “Pac-12 After Dark” player, as Mississippi State fans saw firsthand in last year’s win in the desert.
De Laura needs to work on his consistency, but regardless, he’s a dangerous QB. And he’s got a great group of pass catchers to throw to. Arizona’s receiving corps took a hit when yardage leader Dorian Singer chose to transfer to USC. But they still bring back a 1000-yard receiver in Jacob Cowing, who led the team in catches. Tetairoa McMillen returns after leading the Cats in TD catches with eight and yards per catch at 18.0 as a freshman. Productive TE Tanner McLachlan also returns.
Leading rusher Michael Wiley is back after posting 1120 combined scrimmage yards and 11 total TDs. Backup Jonah Coleman returns as a compliment in the backfield. Up front, Arizona returns three starters from a strong OL. The group is anchored by senior left tackle Jordan Morgan and Jonah Savaiinaea who earned Freshman All-American honors in 2022.
Arizona is going to be good on offense this season. If they can clean up the turnovers and get better in the redzone (84th in RZ scoring percentage in 2022), they can go from good to elite offensively. Now, it’s certainly worth noting that last year, the Wildcats had their worst performance of the year against Mississippi State in Tuscon. The Dawg defense held them to season lows in yardage (316) and points (17), and one of their TDs came on a drive that started at the MSU four yard line.
This year, Zona has to face the cowbells (and humidity) of Davis Wade Stadium. But this is just the second game of the season, and State will be breaking in a new look secondary against Zona’s strong passing attack. Don’t be surprised if they put some points on the board. Granted, if Arizona’s own defense isn’t significantly improved, that might not matter.