Passing game shines for Bulldogs

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – This is a different kind of Mississippi State passing game. Les Koenning doesn’t need a lengthy post-spring evaluation to figure that out.
That passing prowess was on display during Saturday’s Maroon-White spring game, which was won by the Maroon squad, 33-22. Tyler Russell, the No. 1 quarterback, led the winners with 312 yards and two touchdowns on 24 of 43 passing in front of 22,604 paying customers.
His favorite target was slot receiver Jameon Lewis, a sophomore who caught 10 passes for 144 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown to give the Maroon a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
“We’ve changed a whole bunch offensively, as you can see,” said Koenning, the Bulldogs’ fourth-year offensive coordinator. “We’re winging the ball around and putting them in the places to make plays.”
It starts with Russell, a fourth-year junior who’s taken over for dual QB Chris Relf. The 6-foot-4 Russell has been a more self-assured quarterback throughout the 15 spring practices.
“Everyone believes in him,” said senior linebacker Cam Lawrence, who was part of the same signing class as Russell. “Whenever we’re in a tough situation, he’s there for us. He’s the leader of our team right now.”
“I thought his decision-making was great today,” head coach Dan Mullen said.
Joe Morrow, a redshirt freshman, showed off his downfield ability, making six catches for 97 yards. Russell found him for a 17-yard TD.
In the running game, LaDarius Perkins led the Maroon with 55 yards and a TD on seven carries.
Both offenses had to work with a short field, starting drives at their own 45-yard line. That’s because a staging area was roped off for the Sugarland concert that followed the game.
Receiver Chad Bumphis was dropped for a loss in that area when a reverse play was blown up. Bumphis later scored on a 4-yard run out of the wildcat formation.
Dak Prescott was 10 of 27 for 205 yards, a TD and two interceptions for the White. One of the picks was by redshirt freshman linebacker Benardrick McKinney, who continues to make a strong case for starting in the middle.
“I had to roll back out and get to the middle of the field in my hot three (coverage), and the ball just came straight to me,” McKinney said.
That play was a sign of development for McKinney, which of course is a main objective of spring ball.
“The interception he had tonight was tremendous,” Lawrence said. “He took coaching. That route combination, he couldn’t get it at the beginning of spring, but he’s just really developed.”
brad.locke@journalinc.com