Bulldogs delve into playbook with Russell as No. 1 QB

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State’s offense will go in a slightly different direction this year.
The Bulldogs open spring practices today, and part of the plan is to work on the base offense. As they get deeper into the playbook, though, the coaches will be pulling out some plays that have gotten little or no use in the past.
That’s because Tyler Russell, a rising junior, is the No. 1 quarterback. Unlike former platoon partner Chris Relf, Russell is a natural pocket passer with an ability to go downfield. So MSU should have a more vertical passing attack this season.
“There will be some stuff we’re not going to do this year that we’ve done in the past; and there will be some stuff we’ve had in the offense for years that we just haven’t had the need to run, as we continue moving forward and building it around the strengths of these players,” coach Dan Mullen said.
It’ll start with Russell, who completed 53.5 percent of his passes last season for 1,034 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is battling an MCL injury suffered in December, but he’s the man for the job right now.
Aiding Russell will be an experienced receiving corps that features Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith. One thing this group has lacked in recent years is a big target who can stretch defenses, and MSU might have that now in redshirt freshman Joe Morrow.
A 6-4, 205-pounder from Ocean Springs, Morrow could make life easier for other receivers by loosening up defenses. Coaches hope to get a glimpse of that during spring work.
“I do think that will help us certainly to have some more balance and different types of weapons having the big receivers,” Mullen said. “We have a bunch of smaller guys, but now that we have the balance you want to have the balance between both.”
A big factor in this is how the running game develops. MSU must replace 1,000-yard rusher Vick Ballard, and the lead candidates for that are LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin.
Perkins has two years’ experience but has averaged just 7.2 carries per game, and there’s a question as to whether the 5-10, 190-pounder can handle a full-time load.
Griffin has limited experience, and so it could be a by-committee approach in the run game.
“We’ll see what these running backs can do. And it might lead us more down that path,” Mullen said. “I think there is so much up in the air of the exact direction that we’re going to take, but our vision is slightly different than it has been in the past.”
brad.locke@journalinc.com