BRAD LOCKE: Bulldogs go old-school, put their QB under center

Dan MullenHOOVER, Ala. – Dan Mullen has not been afraid to make tweaks to his offense over the years, displaying wisdom in playing to the strengths of his personnel.

It’s why you saw Mississippi State run a lot of hurry-up two years ago with dual-threat quarterback Chris Relf. It’s why the Bulldogs passed significantly more last season with Tyler Russell as the starter.

Russell is back, and the fifth-year senior is finding himself having to adjust to another tweak by Mullen.

During the spring, Russell worked quite a bit under center, which took some getting used to after taking so many snaps in the pistol and shotgun formations over the years.

It’s grown on him.

“I love it. I didn’t think I was going to like it, but once I got my footwork down, it’s a whole lot easier as far as play fakes and different things like that,” he said.

And it took a while for Russell, who was never underneath center in high school, to get that footwork down. He went under center a little last season and described his footwork as “terrible,” so he’s been working hard to improve it.

The early results are promising.

“I saw where in the spring my footwork was flawless,” Russell said. “Everything was smooth. Play-action, you couldn’t tell if it was a pass or a run.

“I think that just goes back to me taking the time out to actually watch old film, and not so much watching the defense but watching what I do underneath center.”

This ability to adjust is what you’d expect from a veteran like Russell. It’s not the only adjustment he’ll have to make – all three starting receivers from last year are gone.

And yet, MSU will keep throwing, perhaps even more than last year, when exactly 50 percent of its plays were passes. That’s easily the highest pass rate under Mullen, who’s entering his fifth season as head coach.

You’ll probably see tailback LaDarius Perkins more involved in the passing game, and tight end Malcolm Johnson – who’s fully healthy going into the season – will be a big downfield target.

In Russell’s hands
Russell will have a big say in how frequently MSU throws the ball. He’s reached the point where Mullen and offensive coordinator Les Koenning are heavily valuing his input on play calls.

That was much the case last year. Russell said the night before games, he and Koenning would sit down and go over which plays he preferred on third down and other situations.

“He’ll take a highlighter and mark it off, even with first down, second down,” Russell said. “He’s calling the play, but I already told him pretty much what to call in different situations.”

It says a lot that coaches want Russell directly involved in the evolution of this offense, which has been very productive under Mullen.

“When Tyler walks into the huddle to speak, stands up in front of the team,” Mullen said, “everyone is going to listen to exactly every word he says.”

<b>Brad Locke</b> (brad.locke@journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.