Dan Mullen uttered a word on Tuesday that I’m not sure has been uttered in a while by a Mississippi State coach when talking about his quarterback.
“I know we’re going to have a lot of trust in Tyler to throw the football,” Mullen said.
You catch the word there? Trust.
Tyler Russell is stepping into the full-time quarterback role for MSU this fall, and that’s significant for at least a couple of reasons. No. 1, the Bulldogs have an unquestioned starter for the first time in ages. Kevin Fant (2003) and Tyson Lee (2009) started all 12 games in those respective seasons but were still sharing significant snaps.
No. 2, Russell should actually be an effective quarterback, one that coaches can trust to make tough throws in tough situations. His predecessors were not given much rope in that department.
The most important part of a coach-quarterback relationship – any relationship, I suppose – is trust. Russell will be a fourth-year junior who has earned that trust by patiently waiting his turn, learning the offense while splitting snaps with Chris Relf for two years.
Relf did some nice things for MSU, but he was no passer. Russell has established himself as a solid passer, and given the chance to be the main man, could become even more. He has the tools and the knowledge, which is why Mullen’s offense will be tailored more toward the pass than it ever has been since he came to MSU.
The receiving corps appears to be more than adequate, and it certainly gives Russell a variety of options. He’s got speedy Jameon Lewis in the slot, big Joe Morrow downfield, and matchup nightmare Malcolm Johnson at tight end.
There’s tons of experience, too, with Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith entering their senior year.
There is room for skepticism of Russell. In two years, his completion rate is a modest 55.7 percent. He’s thrown 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
During spring drills, there were times Russell looked average, but more often than not he looked like a guy who could stand tall next to the SEC’s elite quarterbacks, few as they are.
Obviously, Mullen has more knowledge than we do about what Russell can accomplish in this offense. Not that MSU will abandon the run, but the passing game finally has the potential to earn the respect of opposing SEC secondaries.
If the Bulldogs can keep winning, it won’t be in spite of the passing game. It will be because of it.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.