After a win to start the 2023 Mississippi State football season, the Bulldogs are set to take on the Arizona Wildcats. Let’s learn more about them.
Welcome, Bulldog fans, to the 2023 football season.
Each week, I am going to attempt to come up with five insightful, ground-breaking, thought-provoking, mind-boggling, and downright original questions. Then, I will send them, with minimal notice, to a blogger that covers whoever the Mississippi State football team is set to play that week so that you can get to know who will be on the opposing sidelines when kickoff comes around.
I’ll learn something, you’ll learn something, we’ll laugh together, it’ll be a great time.
Week 2 – Mississippi State football vs. Arizona Wildcats with Brian Pedersen from AZ Desert Swarm
Evan Ertel: Recent years have not necessarily been the kindest to Arizona football, but it feels like this may be year three of things going in the right direction. Do you think Head Coach Jedd Fisch is the right fit for the long term?
Brian Pedersen: Fisch had never been a head coach before Arizona hired him, but he’s been an assistant with numerous college and NFL teams, and that’s enabled him to tap into a lot of connections to help offset his lack of experience. Considering how badly Kevin Sumlin ran things into the ground, avoiding the retread route was a must and it was going to be hard to get an up-and-coming mid-major coach to want to take on such a rebuild. Fisch is trying to establish himself, and being able to essentially start from scratch has been good for him and the Wildcats. He’s already recruited better than his two predecessors, has gotten the community more interested, and plays a run style on offense.
Evan Ertel: 2023 looks like it might be the most entertaining year in PAC-12 history, ironically, in its last year of existence. Where do Wildcat fans expect to see their squad when things have all shaken out?
Brian Pedersen: Expect? Rose Bowl, baby! (Too bad it’s one of the CFP semifinals this year, meaning Arizona will go its entire 45-year run in the Pac-10/12 without appearing in the “Granddaddy of Them All.”)
Realistically, though, I think they’d all be happy with getting to a bowl game for the first time since 2017, which means winning four conference games (unless it goes 3-0 in nonconference) and that would be somewhere around 7th place. Arizona was picked to finish 8th.
Evan Ertel: Continuing with the death of the PAC-12, how do Arizona fans feel like they faired in the realignment frenzy?
Brian Pedersen: The old guard is melancholy about losing the traditions of playing the California, Oregon, and Washington schools, while the younger fan base is excited to be in a league with more national relevancy. The biggest question was whether Arizona and ASU were going to stick together, and the fans were mixed on that as well.
Evan Ertel: Jayden de Laura is entering his third year as a starter, and second as QB1 for Arizona. Where is his development as a QB at currently, and how high do Wildcat fans think his ceiling is?
Brian Pedersen: He put up great numbers in his first year with Arizona, but he also made a lot of mistakes early on because he was struggling to play within Jedd Fisch’s system. The Mississippi State game was a great example of that. As the year went on you could see him get more comfortable, particularly with opportunities to run and/or throw the ball away.
But then in the opener, he almost threw an interception on a play when he should have taken off or thrown it away, then lost a fumble when he scrambled as took on a defender instead of sliding (when he should have left the pocket a lot sooner,) so there’s still some of that uncertainty.
MSU’s speed up front could rattle him, and that’s when all planning goes out the door.
Evan Ertel: What are three names that Bulldogs fans should know on the Arizona sideline come Saturday night?
Brian Pedersen: The defense is almost all new from last year, but early on it looks like Michigan transfer Edge, Taylor Upshaw, is going to be a problem for opponents. He had 1.5 tackles for loss (and two roughing the passer penalties) in the opener and that was lined up on the side with a tight end.
On offense, it’s nearly the same unit as 2022, so let’s go with the most veteran of the group. Senior, Michael Wiley, is Arizona’s Jo’Quavious Marks, a pass-catching back who has great hands and hasn’t fumbled since 2021.
As for the X-factor, TE, Tanner McLachlan. He had a breakout season last year, putting up the best numbers at Arizona for that position since Rob Gronkowski, but he wasn’t targeted in the 2023 opener. I don’t see that happening again.