Mississippi State’s storylines vs. Arizona

Published 3:02 pm Friday, September 9, 2022

STARKVILLE – It’s the first Mississippi State road trip of the 2022 season.

The Bulldogs face Arizona in Tucson on Saturday night. Kickoff time is set for 10 p.m. CT. The game will be televised by FS1. Fans can also listen for free online by CLICKING HERE.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Mississippi State’s Storylines vs. Arizona

This will be the first meeting between Mississippi State and Arizona, and the Wildcats are the only team on MSU’s schedule in 2022 that the Bulldogs have not played before in their history

At 1,474 miles, the trip to Tucson, Arizona, is State’s longest since going 1,710 miles to BYU in 2016.

Head coach Mike Leach is 4-2 in his career against the Wildcats with all six meetings coming during his time at Washington State (2013-18). In 2017, Leach’s WSU squad threw for 602 yards at Arizona, which is the No. 10 passing total by any Leach-coached team.

In the same game, Leach’s offense completed 58-of-84 passes, the highest completion total of his career and the second-highest pass attempt mark.

Mississippi State earned 34 first downs in the season opener against Memphis, which is tied for second in the FBS. Of those 34, 24 came via the pass.

MSU completed passes to 12 different receivers in the season opener against Memphis. State is one of a dozen FBS teams to complete passes to 12 or more receivers this year.

Five different Bulldogs have caught a touchdown this season.

Only North Carolina (7) and Appalachian State (6) have more.

The Bulldogs held the ball for 41:11 in the season opener against Memphis. That was State’s highest total under Leach, surpassing last year’s game against Kentucky (41:10).

Only Minnesota (44:30) had a higher time of possession in Week 1.

WR Rara Thomas scored his sixth touchdown in his last six games against Memphis.

He finished with a career-high 81 yards on five receptions, leading MSU with 71 yards after catch.

According to ESPN’s FPI, MSU will play the second-toughest schedule in the nation in 2022.

The Bulldogs play all six SEC teams that were ranked in the preseason AP poll.

Last fall, MSU was the only school in the country that faced six teams ranked in the final College Football Playoff Top 25 and was one of four teams with three wins against teams ranked in the final poll. Mississippi State returns 72.2 percent of its receptions from a year ago, which trails only LSU (72.5 percent) in the SEC. Mike Leach became the first MSU head coach, at least in the modern era, to beat three teams in one season who finished ranked in a final poll.

Over the last five seasons, Mike Leach’s teams have defeated nine opponents ranked inside the AP Top 25. Only two current SEC head coaches have more such wins in that span.

    Under Mike Leach, the Bulldogs are 8-0 when scoring at least 30 points and 9-2 when scoring first.

    The Bulldogs were one of four teams to rank inside the top 25 nationally in both total offense and total defense during the 2021 regular season, joining Alabama, Michigan and Coastal Carolina.

    Following the 2021 regular season, MSU was the third most improved scoring offense in the SEC and 10th most improved nationally at +9.5 from 2020 (21.4 ppg to 30.9 ppg).

    MSU will be one of the most-experienced teams in college football this spring, with a total of 16 starters returning on offense and defense.

    Mississippi State has ranked among the top five Power Five teams in the nation in yards after catch in back-to-back seasons under head coach Mike Leach, and State is currently fifth nationally. The Bulldogs led the nation in yards after catch in 2021, and State ranked second in the SEC and third nationally in 2020.

    QB Will Rogers leads the nation in completions per game (38.0), is second in passing yards per game (450.0) and third in total offense per game (434.0).

    RB Dillon Johnson collected 106 all-purpose yards against Memphis with the help of a career-high 67 rushing yards. He is tied for 11th in the SEC in all-purpose yards per game.

    WR Rara Thomas is sixth in the SEC in receiving yards per game (81.0), and WR Caleb Ducking is fourth in the conference, averaging 24.33 yards per catch.

    WR Jaden Walley is the SEC’s active leader in missed tackles forced after a reception per PFF. Meanwhile, WR Austin Williams is tied for second among active SEC players with 16 career contested catches per PFF.

    MSU returns 79.1 percent of its defensive snaps from 2021. Of the 22 players on the defensive side of the two-deep, 17 have been playing for the past two years under defensive coordinator Zach Arnett. Three more have at least played a season in Arnett’s system.

    State is third in the SEC with just 13 first downs allowed this year and has played the fewest defensive snaps (51) in the league. The Bulldogs led the SEC in fewest first downs allowed in 2021 (219) and were one of the best in the league at getting off the field as they allowed the second fewest total plays on the year (807).

    LB Jett Johnson led MSU with a career-best 13 tackles against Memphis in the season opener. He also led State in tackles in 2021 with 87 total stops and he entered this year ranked third among returning linebackers in the FBS with a 74.7 overall defensive grade from PFF, making him the SEC’s returning leader.

    Against SEC teams, Arnett’s defense ranked third in total defense (352.3) in 2021 and fourth in total defense (380.3) in 2020 after State ranked 11th (419.3) in 2019 before Arnett’s arrival at MSU.