By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell has taken a lot of licks this season.
In five SEC games, MSU has allowed only six sacks, but opponents have recorded 33 quarterback hurries. Russell took several hits in last week’s 38-13 loss to Texas A&M and was hurried eight times.
Head coach Dan Mullen, whose No. 22 Bulldogs (7-2, 3-2 SEC) travel to No. 9 LSU (7-2, 3-2) this week, isn’t overly concerned about it.
“I look at the sacks,” Mullen said Monday. “There’s times he’s going to hold the ball, and we’ll need him to hold on to that ball up to the last second.”
But the pressure on Russell has had a negative effect on the offense. On a key fourth-and-3 from the Texas A&M 11-yard line, Russell dropped back and had to unload early because of a blitz. The pass sailed out of the end zone.
After the game, Russell said, “They brought a blitz, the clock was running down and I didn’t have time to re-direct the protection. I had to get it out quick and couldn’t find anybody.”
Mullen said that MSU had only five guys trying to block seven rushers.
“So yeah, you’ve got to get rid of it quick when you don’t have enough guys to block their guys coming,” he said. “On the fourth-down play they blew a coverage. Obviously you expect them to cover somebody and they didn’t. That can cause you some problems, too.”
On the flip side, MSU’s defense has recorded only eight sacks this season, and in SEC play it has just 10 QB hurries. State’s coaches said that they’d love to a more effective pass rush, but defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said a four-man rush up front wouldn’t have worked against elusive Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
State’s front line has been stonewalled quite a bit this season, but the linebackers have had issues, too.
“You see Saturday against Johnny Manziel, Matt Wells was really close twice, missed a sack; Deontae (Skinner) was close twice, he missed a sack; Cam (Lawrence) got him on the ground. We were so close,” said co-defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.
“Matt Wells, great kid, but probably leads the SEC in missed opportunities.”
Senior receiver Arceto Clark has been a steady presence for MSU’s offense. Over the last five games, the Shannon native has made 18 catches for 211 yards.
Offensive coordinator Les Koenning was reserved in his praise of Clark, citing the fact that MSU has just recently gotten into “the meat” of its schedule.
“To make a judgment now wouldn’t be fair to Arceto, wouldn’t be fair to any of those guys,” Koenning said. “They’re doing a good job, we just need to keep improving, because obviously the competition is going to keep improving.”
Last week marked the first time that Clark and fellow seniors Chad Bumphis and Chris Smith all had at least four catches in the same game.