College Football's Most Entertaining Game This Weekend Is One Nobody is Talking About
"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?". That philosophical thought which has been around for a long time comes to mind when looking forward to what I believe is going to be one of the most entertaining games this weekend in college football. The game I'm referring to will take place Saturday night at 11pm EST when Mississippi State makes the trip out West to Tuscon to take on the Arizona Wildcats. In a weekend where great games look to be few and far between, this one has a chance to be the best game that nobody is talking about.
Both teams enter this contest with 1-0 records and are coming off impressive victories in week 1 in which Arizona handled San Diego State 38-20 and Mississippi State took care of Memphis 49-23. Behind impressive QB play the two teams combined for over 1,000 yards of total offense in their season opening wins with 749 of those yards coming through the air!
Arizona on the Rise
For a team that finished 1-11 last season, Arizona looked sharp, scoring 38 points against San Diego State last weekend. That point total was the most the Wildcats had scored in a single game since 2019. Throughout the entire 2021 season, the Wildcats only scored 20 or more points two times but managed to hit that mark in the first half on the road against the Aztecs.
Arizona's 38-20 victory on the road was fueled by the breakout performance of sophomore quarterback Jayden de Laura, who threw for 299 yards and four touchdowns in his first game with the Wildcats. The Washington State transfer was the first Arizona QB to hit the 4TD pass mark since Anu Solomon tossed four TDs against UNLV back in in 2014. De Laura's four touchdown passes, were the most ever by an Arizona quarterback in a Wildcat debut with three of those four TDs hauled in by WR Jacob Cowing.
Cowing was a star in the Wildcats' week one triumph over San Diego State as the wide receiver had an immediate impact, hauling in eight passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns. Cowing has now collected at least one reception in 33 straight games, tied for the second-longest current streak among all FBS players, going back to his tenure at UTEP. Cowing has had multiple catches 28 times and five or more receptions 18 times during that 33-game span, which includes every college game in which he has played.
Miss State QB Will Rogers Continues to Impress
My week 1 player of the week Will Rogers is coming off a game in which he completed 38 of 49 passes for 450 yards and 5 touchdowns. The Mississippi State QB who broke 25 records during his sophomore campaign looks to be picking up right where he left off in 2021. Rogers who went on to break many of former Mississippi State's star QB Dak Prescott's records finished third in the FBS in passing yards overall in 2021 and led the SEC in passing yards per game at 364.5. In a short period of time, Rogers has risen to the top of State's career list in total offense after just 23 games and 20 starts. He now leads all Bulldogs in total yards with 7,011 and averages 304.8 per game.
Rogers loves to spread the ball around as 12 different players on the Mississippi State offense recorded at least one reception last week against Memphis. Rogers also connected with five different receivers for each of his five TD passes.
It's Not Only About Offense
While both teams were impressive on the offensive side of the ball last week, each showed the ability to step up and play some defense as well. Under first year defensive coordinator
Johnny Nansen the Arizona defense allowed just 62 passing yards to San Diego State, the fewest since allowing just 21 passing yards to The Citadel in week two of 2010. The Wildcat pass defense was rock solid as the Aztecs' QB only managed to connect on 7 of 16 passes with junior safety Jaxen Turner picking off one of those passes for Arizona's first INT of the new season. Another bright spot for the Arizona defense was Jerry Roberts, a linebacker who led the team with a career-high 12 tackles.
While it's usually Mike Leach and the pass happy offense that gets most of the headlines for Mississippi State, the Bulldog defense has started to build a reputation of its own. In 2021, Mississippi State's rush defense of 113.4 YPG was 12th in the country and third in the SEC. Only perennial powers Georgia and Alabama have given up fewer than 150 rushing yards in as many games since 2020 as the Bulldogs.
Zach Arnett, Mississippi States defensive coordinator, has kept the opposition's rushing total below 200 yards in 21 of 25 games, while six opponents were limited to less than 100 yards on the ground in 2021. Those that follow my blog understand just how important holding an opponent under 100 yards rushing is, as teams that achieved this feat in games between 2016-2019 won over 86% of the time.
Mississippi States defense brings a wealth of experience into the 2022 season, as 17 of the 22 players on the defensive side of the two-deep have seen action for Zach Arnett's defense during the past two seasons. Nine of the 11 starters have been in the system since 2020, and only one starter on the depth chart was not on the roster the previous season.
Facing the Mississippi State run defense will be a tough task for Arizona and running back DJ Williams who rushed for 1 TD and a team high 88 yards in the opener against San Diego State. As evident from last week's 39 rush and 35 pass attempts, the Wildcats and head coach Jedd Fisch who brings a wealth of NFL experience would like to remain balanced on offense. However, if the Bulldog rush defense remains stout, I can see de Laura and Arizona airing it out a little more this week, especially if WR Jacob Cowing continues to impress.
For Mississippi State, there's no secret what they want to do. Look for Mike Leach and company to do what they do best, which is let it fly. Mississippi State led the nation in 2021 with over 54 pass attempts per game and there's no reason to expect anything different this weekend against Arizona. There should be great conditions in Tuscon Saturday night, and with two capable QB's, I see this game turning into a potential shootout. The only question I have is if the Wildcats have enough skill to match Mississippi State if the scoring gets into the 30's and 40's but either way, it's going to be lots of fun!
If you're on the east coast like me, I recommend a late afternoon nap and putting on a pot of coffee and set an alarm to ensure you're up for the 11pm EST kickoff, as I think this game has a chance to be one of the more exciting games of the weekend.