Over the last two plus seasons at Mississippi State if it was third and short or first and goal you knew what was coming. Chris Relf was going to do his best Tim Tebow impersonation and take off with the football. In Dan Mullen’s spread attack there is no doubt if you have a running quarterback – he will run when the time comes. Gone from the Mississippi State offense is the over four-thousand yards and thirty touchdowns by way of running and throwing courtesy of Chris Relf. Gone also is the every persistent Vick Ballard at tailback.
Most coaches always talk yearly about their team is a new team, their team this year will be different from last years. In Mississippi State’s case – this year truly is a different year. Head coach Dan Mullen always talks about playing to his players strengths; tweaking the system to fit his players and not recruiting a player for a certain system.
Insert junior redshirt Tyler Russell at quarterback. The 6′-4″ 220lb Russell is arguably the most heralded quarterback the State of Mississippi has produced via its high school system in many years and now it is time for Russell ( a five star quarterback out of Meridian, MS) to prove he can do what most Mississippi high school quarterbacks have failed to do – play consistently at an SEC level at the quarterback position.
Mississippi produces many players that surface yearly in the South Eastern Conference in football but the quarterback position is one that has been nonexistent over the last decade. Minus Jason Campbell at Auburn and Romaro Miller at Ole Miss, the State of Mississippi just hasn’t produced high profile SEC quarterbacks.
Back to Russell who was apart of Mullen’s first recruiting class at Mississippi State. Russell was expected to compete early and possibly take over for the Bulldogs as a true freshman or redshirt and that never panned out. Although he has seen spot time over the last two years and garnered a few starts, this is for the first time Russell’s team.
In turning the reigns over to Russell, Mullen must now look at his offense and re-evaluate how he will run his system. Russell unlike Relf is not a quarterback that will get you six or seven yards on the ground when needed. The taller pocket passer is known more for his precision passing and accuracy and Mullen must now rely on Russell the thrower instead of Relf the runner. Add to the fact that a new tailback will carry the ball for the Bulldogs and the shoulders of Russell just got even heavier.
Russell has shown flashes of brilliance at times like in 2010 throwing for five touchdowns against the Memphis Tigers; but he has also been prone to holding on to the ball to long – taking the big sack in certain situations.
But – for Mullen who visited the University of Oregon and Oklahoma State in the off-season to evaluate their philosophy of throwing from the spread, it is apparent Mullen not only trusts Russell but expects him to excel in his revamped spread attack.
“You have a quarterback who throws the ball well, and an experienced group of wide receivers,” Mullen said. “So, as we view things, you’re looking more to throw the football than you have (in the past).”
Obviously Mullen will not totally abandon the run as the Bulldogs have put up stellar numbers on the ground since Mullen’s arrival but you may see State throw more to set up the run. With guys like seniors Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark, Brandon Heavens and budding stars like Jameon Lewis, Joe Marrow and Rico Sanders Mullen feels he finally has a group of receivers and a quarterback to attack the SEC via the air.
Since shortly after State’s Music City Bowl over Wake Forest the staff has met continuously trying to figure out how to handle the 2012 version of the Mississippi State offense and offensive coordinator Les Koenning said this is nothing new as this happens every off season.
“Those are the things that we’re doing right now in meetings,” Koenning said. “Offensively we’re evaluating last year, trying to tag this year’s scheme in with this year’s personnel. Because each year it changes.”
Koenning continued, “We have to utilize our personnel the way that we can manufacture points and move the football. Because it changes each year, you don’t have the same people. Tyler Russell is obviously different than Chris Relf; Dak Prescott is different than Tyler. And Vick Ballard is different than the backs we have now. We’ve got to change.”
And now for Tyler Russell things change drastically. He goes from the fan favorite, the guy off the bench to the man that will lead the Bulldogs into the fourth quarter every week. The guy that will have all the pressure on him on that last drive in a tight SEC ballgame and the guy who will carry the weight of an entire state that hasn’t produced a productive SEC quarterback in over a decade.
For Tyler Russell – everything is about to come full circle and everything is about to become real. Gone are the Scout.com and Rivals.com ratings, the chatter and the talk of greatness. It is now Tyler time in Starkville, MS.