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Mississippi State forces 5 turnovers, needs OT to hold off Arizona in OT, 31-24

Mississippi State running back Jeffery Pittman (25) sprints past offensive lineman Steven Losoya III (64) for an overtime touchdown against Arizona during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Starkville, Miss. (Thomas Wells/The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal via AP)

Mississippi State running back Jeffery Pittman (25) sprints past offensive lineman Steven Losoya III (64) for an overtime touchdown against Arizona during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Starkville, Miss. (Thomas Wells/The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal via AP

BY ROBBIE FAULK contributing

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura scramble on 4th and 10 and an official review confirmed him just inches short of a first down in overtime and Mississippi State held on for a 31-24 overtime win over the Wildcats on Saturday night.

The Bulldogs had taken the lead in the first possession of the overtime on a 29-yard screen pass from Will Rogers to Jeffery Pittman.

“Winning (isn’t) easy. Half of the teams in the country lost today so we’re going to celebrate this one,” Bulldogs coach Zach Arnett said. “I could not be more proud of the way that we attacked from the opening kick. Frankly, I didn’t have good enough plans as a coach. There was every opportunity to quit and throw in the towel and players overcame me as a coach. I’m incredibly proud of the resiliency of this team.”

The Bulldogs gave up several big plays on the defensive side of the ball, but their own big plays gave the State offense more than enough opportunities to capitalize.

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Mississippi State wide receiver Lideatrick Griffin (5) has his dreads knocked loose by a tackle by Southeastern Louisiana defensive back Kunta Hester (11) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Starkville, Miss. Mississippi State won 48-7. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

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Interceptions from Bookie Watson, Jett Johnson and Shawn Preston started the first three possessions with the Bulldogs scoring two touchdowns off of those. Another turnover came inside the redzone for Arizona as Preston knocked a ball loose and Hunter Washington scooped it up. Johnson got another interception in the fourth quarter.

Despite that dominance on the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs never fully secured the game until late. The Wildcats trailed just 14-7 at the half after scoring on a 1-yard plunge with 2 seconds left in the second quarter. Arizona tied the game at 21 in the fourth quarter with an 11-yard touchdown from Jayden de Laura to Tetairoa McMillan.

Arizona was able to hit a 36-yard field goal by Tyler Loop to send the game to overtime.

The Bulldogs (2-0) were out-gained 431-307 in the win. Rogers was 13-of-17 for 162 yards and three touchdowns and the offense ran for 145 yards on 39 carries. Woody Marks finished with 24 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown, his second-straight 100-yard game after failing to record such a game his previous three years.

de Laura overcame those four interceptions to keep the Arizona in the game. The senior was 32-of-46 for 342 yards and two scores and rushed eight times for 44 yards.

“He’s extremely mobile. He’s really good at buying time,” Arnett said of de Laura. “We’ve got to go back and evaluate as coaches and figure out where the breakdowns were. I’m really proud of the defense because they had every opportunity to throw in the towel or not chase the ball hard.”

State had a disciplined first game of the season in a win over Southeastern Louisiana, but this was not that. The Bulldogs finished with nine penalties for 90 yards after committing just one penalty in game one. There were no turnovers for the Bulldogs, however.

MSU’s secondary blew coverages and gave up some big plays but the linebackers and defensive backs also came through with big plays. Johnson, last year’s leading tackler in the SEC, had 11 stops with two interceptions, 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. The second-leading tackler in the SEC was Watson last season and he had another big game with 10 tackles, an interception, pass breakup and 0.5 sack.

The Mississippi State defense finished with nine tackles for loss to go with four interceptions and eight pass breakups.

“It’s hard to emulate game experience. Being in the fire and having a lot of vet guys that have been in it, you can’t emulate it,” Johnson said of the defensive experience. “It’s nice to have.”

BIG PICTURE

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs’ play calling in the game left much to be desired as they stayed with the run game despite stalling regularly. Equally, the defense gave up huge plays. IN the end, the Bulldogs won the game and stayed undefeated with a huge game next week to start SEC play.

Arizona: The Wildcats nearly avenged a 39-17 loss to the Bulldogs in Tucson last year. It showed the continued progress of Jedd Fisch and the Wildcats after the team went from one win in 2022 to 5-7 last year.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State hosts LSU next Saturday.

Arizona hosts UTEP next Saturday

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