BRAD LOCKE: Should Tyler Russell be MSU’s starting quarterback?

TUPELO – Here’s a question I posed on my radio show on Tuesday: Should Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen just go ahead and hand the offensive reins to Tyler Russell?
I’m not saying he should or shouldn’t take over completely for starter Chris Relf, but it’s a fair question.
Mullen signed Russell with every intent of someday handing the offense over to him. The redshirt freshman was the best quarterback in Mississippi as a senior at Meridian High School, and he was the guy who helped snap South Panola’s state-record winning streak in the 2008 Class 5A state championship game.
He’s your prototypical quarterback. You know, if you like 6-foot-5, 225-pound quarterbacks with a laser-rocket arm.
When Russell entered the LSU game in the third quarter – Relf had left after taking a shot to the head – he dropped back and fired a long pass across the field to Arceto Clark for a 17-yard gain.
Right then, I posted this Twitter update: “And that is why Russell should be in the game. Relf can’t make that throw.”
I was not saying Russell should be the full-time quarterback. I was saying that with MSU trailing and Relf struggling, Russell was the best option at the time.
He might be the best option all of the time, but it’s hard to bail out on Relf just yet. Sure, I haven’t seen much evidence to back up all the offseason talk of his teammates and coaches that Relf is a more accurate and reliable passer. But you have to consider that Relf’s offensive line and receivers haven’t helped him out a lot, so it’s too early to pass judgment on that.
There’s no question Russell is the more advanced passer of the two, and always will be. What keeps Relf on the field are his legs and experience.
At some point this season – trust me, this is going to happen – Relf is going to play poorly, get pulled, and Russell will tear it up, perhaps even leading MSU to a fourth-quarter comeback win. Then this question will be getting asked a lot.
Mullen has insisted that the two-QB system can work, but he doesn’t have much precedent to base that claim on (Chris Leak-Tim Tebow doesn’t count, because that was nothing like this dual system). Having one good quarterback is always preferable.
Making Russell the man right now means that going into next season, he’ll be well-seasoned and still have as many as three years left to run things. Otherwise, you’re stuck with two quarterbacks next season, too.
So why delay the future? Sure, there will be some short-term suffering, as it would be with any young quarterback.
And right there is your counter-argument: You don’t want to sacrifice this season and take too many lumps for the sake of one player. Well, looks to me like MSU is taking its lumps anyway.
Take a close look at the Georgia team that’s coming to Starkville on Saturday. That set of Bulldogs has a redshirt freshman at quarterback, Aaron Murray, and he’s playing well. True, he has more talent around him than Russell does – and will have even more when receiver A.J. Green gets off suspension – but he’s still young and will make mistakes.
Murray and Russell are similar in many ways. Both were recruited by Mullen – the former when Mullen was Florida’s offensive coordinator – and both were early enrollees who have gone through two full spring and fall camps.
These guys aren’t nearly as delicate as a kid who graduated high school just four months ago and got on campus this summer. Murray and Russell know their offenses, have the respect of their teammates, and have shown a knack for making plays.
Again, I’m not calling for Russell to start and for Relf to sit behind him and/or find some other role. But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.

Brad Locke (brad.locke@djournal.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal