By David Brandt/The Associated Press
STARKVILLE — Tyler Russell completed his first pass of Mississippi State’s spring game for an easy 7-yard gain over the middle.
Then Josh Robinson bounced off a couple would-be tacklers and rumbled ahead for a 38-yard gain. A few plays later, Russell found Brandon Hill for an 11-yard touchdown.
It was a quick, efficient and impressive touchdown drive. The Bulldogs certainly hope it’s a preview of things to come this fall.
“There were a bunch of big plays today,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said with a wide smile. “Now we’ll see on film if it was a great play or a missed assignment … We kept everything very simple. We kept the schematics very simple just because we had the teams split up. We didn’t want to go too complex, so maybe that advantage leaned toward the offense.”
The White team defeated the Maroon team 38-28 on Saturday in a spring game that featured a combined 791 total yards from both teams. The big plays were a welcome sight considering the offense will likely need to carry Mississippi State through the opening weeks of next season as the inexperienced defense develops experience.
Russell had a busy and productive day as the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the roster. Backup Dak Prescott missed the spring because of a foot injury.
The 6-foot-5 senior completed 13 of 24 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns — both to Hill. Russell is coming off a breakout junior season that included 2,897 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but he struggled down the stretch as the Bulldogs lost five of their last six.
His performance on Saturday was much more like early in the season, when Mississippi State won seven straight.
“I think I did pretty well,” Russell said. “There are some things I can work on. I hit some guys on the back shoulder and led them out of bounds. But it’s mostly just little things.”
Starting running back LaDarius Perkins — who rushed for 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns last season — didn’t play on Saturday because of a head injury. Brandon Holloway led the Bulldogs with 128 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Jeremey Chappelle, a 6-foot-3 junior college transfer who is expected to make a big impact next fall, caught eight passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
“I’ve had a lot of confidence once I learned the playbook and got up to speed with the tempo,” Chappelle said. “There is a lot of momentum going into the fall.”
Mississippi State’s defense is rebuilding after losing productive mainstays Johnthan Banks, Cameron Lawrence, Corey Broomfield and Darius Slay to graduation.
There are still some talented holdovers — including linebacker Bernardrick McKinney and defensive end Denico Autry. McKinney made 102 tackles last season to lead all SEC freshmen while 6-foot-6, 265-pound Autry had four tackles for a loss in his final four games last season.
But several of the new starters haven’t had a huge role in the past.
First-year defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said the no-name composition of the defense should be a positive.
“Every day we’re together, it’s one defense and one heartbeat,” Collins said. “Regardless of position, we can move guys around. They’re playing well and getting to know the system.”
Mullen said Mississippi State had a productive spring. The Bulldogs will try to extend their streak of three straight winning seasons next fall.
“We had a really good spring,” Mullen said. “Now we can either take a giant step forward, stay the same or possibly even take a step back. If we want to be a championship team and compete for championships in this league, you better take some giant steps forward over the next few months before our next practice in August.”
Read more in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.