BATON ROUGE, La. – Tyler Russell had a bandage on his chin, a war wound from his first genuine SEC battle.
He doesn’t recall exactly how he got it, but Mississippi State’s redshirt freshman quarterback didn’t mind one bit. In fact, he was glad to get knocked around a little in Saturday’s 29-7 loss to No. 15 LSU.
“LSU is a hard-hitting defense. I watched these guys play when I was little,” Russell said. “I knew I wanted to go in there and take some hits. I think I got hit pretty hard tonight, but I’m OK.”
Russell didn’t play in the first half but was forced into action when starter Chris Relf got his bell rung on the first drive of the third quarter. The first two play calls were passes, and Russell was money, hitting Arceto Clark for 17 yards and Chad Bumphis for 19.
He said he wasn’t expecting pass calls to be made, and apparently neither was LSU.
“So that’s why it worked,” he said.
Russell also ran the ball a couple of times on that drive, getting it to the LSU 1-yard line to set up Vick Ballard’s touchdown run, making it 12-7 Tigers.
It was as intimidating an environment as Russell could’ve faced: Tiger Stadium, more than 92,000 fans, at night. It’s a situation ripe for a meltdown by a young quarterback.
“When Tyler got called and got his chance to go in, he took advantage of it and did a nice job,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “I think Tyler’s gained some valuable experience out here on that field.”
Russell threw three interceptions, but not all of those were on him. He took responsibility anyway.
Russell finished 5 of 10 for 81 yards, and it was a more encouraging performance than what he turned in against Auburn the week before, when he was 4 of 9 for just 19 yards.
He was doing a lot of talking with his interior linemen on protection schemes, despite the crowd noise. He never seemed flustered.
And now Russell has an invaluable experience to build on.
“LSU’s probably the toughest place to play in, so I got that out the way,” he said. “I did some things good, and I think I did some things I need to work on.”
Now, if the rest of MSU’s young players can learn as quickly, some more wins might be around the corner. It was simple mistakes the Bulldogs made, and Mullen is looking for young players to make themselves go-to guys.
Perhaps Russell will be that guy soon.
“They’re looking around, who’s going to make the play,” Mullen said. “All right, here we go, we’re in the situation, who’s going to make the play? Everybody needs to look in the mirror to go make that play, and say, you know what, we need to step up, I’m going to be the one to make the play.”
BRAD LOCKE / NEMS Daily Journal