By David Brandt/The Associated Press
HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Coach Dan Mullen and quarterback Tyler Russell have both been at Mississippi State for five seasons.
The duo hopes that experience can help lead the Bulldogs back to a bowl game for a fourth straight season and contend for a Southeastern Conference Western Division title.
Mullen said on Wednesday at SEC Media Days that the seasoned Russell “understands what has to get accomplished” for the Bulldogs to meet their goal of making the SEC championship game.
“When Tyler walks into the huddle to speak, stands up in front of them, everyone is going to listen to exactly every word he says,” Mullen said. “When he understands the message and the direction as a whole that the program is going in, why we’re trying to go in that direction, it certainly helps you.”
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Russell had a breakout season in 2012, throwing for 2,897 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The Bulldogs appeared to have an outside shot at the SEC championship last season with a 7-0 start, but lost five of six down the stretch against tough competition. Mullen said he hopes that experience helped his team learn how to “handle that adversity a little bit better.”
The bad November and Gator Bowl loss to Northwestern represented the first real adversity of Mullen’s tenure. The Bulldogs had continually improved under Mullen until that point, but now it’s easy to wonder if the program can ever crack the upper echelon of the Western Division, which includes Alabama, LSU and now Texas A&M. And Auburn and Arkansas were not long ago ahead of the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State also has a much more difficult opener this season against Oklahoma State in Houston. But Russell says the Bulldogs should be ready and are ready to break through.
“Going 8-5, going to a bowl game isn’t good enough anymore,” Russell said. “A few years ago, you win 5 games and that was a pretty good year. Now, we’ve changed everything, we continually get better. Our goal is to go 7-0 (again), to continue the season undefeated and ultimately make it to the (SEC) championship. If you don’t have those goals, you shouldn’t really be playing football.”
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