STARKVILLE – As the clock winds down on Tyson Lee’s football career, he finds himself still seeking a comfort zone in an offense that’s toddling headfirst through its infant stage.
He’s in an odd position. The Mississippi State senior quarterback has been asked to learn a new offense, help the Bulldogs make it through Dan Mullen’s first season in a respectable manner, and be part of a foundation for a future of which he’ll have no part.
It hasn’t been pretty. Lee, who threw only five interceptions in 260 attempts last season, has thrown 13 picks in 206 attempts this fall. His completion percentage is still solid – 58.7 – and he’s throwing for about the same yardage – 137.0 per game.
But he has just four touchdown passes and has at times been a big liability. He was picked off twice in last week’s 31-3 loss to No. 3 Alabama.
As he prepares to lead MSU (4-6, 2-4 SEC) into this week’s game at Arkansas (6-4, 2-4), Lee admits his game isn’t where he wants it to be.
“As far as statistics, as far as what I’ve done on the field, has it gotten better? I don’t know,” he said. “My mindset has been to continue to get better, continue to compete, and that’s how I view the rest of the two games.”
If there’s been one overwhelming positive aspect of Lee’s performance, it’s his perseverance. His chin has stayed up, and he embodies the Bulldogs’ attitude of being determined instead of discouraged as the losses mount.
“I haven’t seen that change for him, from offseason workouts, to spring practice, through two-a-days, through all season – Tyson gives us everything he’s got,” Mullen said. “He continues to work and continues to try to improve.”
Lee hasn’t had many “Look what I just did” moments at MSU. He nearly had one against LSU but was stopped inches shy of the goal line on fourth-and-inches at game’s end. He had a chance to hit O’Neal Wilder for a huge play – maybe a touchdown – on the first play of the Alabama game, but he short-armed it.
What could help Lee is the reemergence of Chris Relf, who is finding increasing playing time since coming off a two-game midseason suspension. He had a key 53-yard run against Kentucky, and he had a perfectly thrown deep ball to O’Neal Wilder tipped away by Alabama’s Marquis Johnson, in addition to some good running.
More important than that, players can just tell Relf’s confidence is up a notch.
“I think it’s just a new life since he’s been back,” Lee said. “A different confidence level, understanding he can do it.”
So Relf should keep getting snaps like he was earlier in the season, which in theory will take some pressure off Lee.
“When guys do that, and they get on the field and they perform and show you some good things, you’re going to feel pretty comfortable putting them back out there for more,” Mullen said.
Said Relf, “I always feel confident. I just feel like I can go out there and make some things happen, and I tried to go out there and make some things happen this past week.”
MSU must win out to become bowl eligible, which means even with added help from Relf, Lee needs to find a new level, and fast.
“We only have two games left on the regular-season schedule, two games left in my college career – it’s kind of overwhelming,” he said. “This week against Arkansas, it’s really the most important game of my career so far.”
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal