By Brad Locke
STARKVILLE – The depth chart says Dak Prescott is Mississippi State’s backup quarterback. That’s not how Tyler Russell sees it.
Russell takes the first snap and gets the most snaps in every game, and the fifth-year senior has earned the starting role. He broke out last season, passing for nearly 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Prescott played a complementary role last season as a redshirt freshman. He was utilized a lot in the red zone and in short-yardage situations, accounting for eight touchdowns running and throwing.
Russell and Prescott have well-defined roles, but “backup” is not a word they use to describe Prescott.
“I said something the other day about being the backup quarterback. (Tyler) said ‘You’re not the backup quarterback; you’re the other quarterback,’” Prescott said.
Russell understands the need for his understudy to be ready to take over the offense, and to have a starter’s mentality when he’s on the field.
“It’s not like it’s first-string, second-string,” Russell said, “because I know at any given time, you’ve got to be able to come in there and be that guy. You’ve still got to train like you’re the first-string quarterback.”
Prescott has Russell to thank for helping him train that way. The two are very close friends and hold each other accountable on the field and in the film room.
“From the film room, he’s taught me a lot,” Prescott said. “He goes out there and he pushes me on the field. He’s just like a big brother on the field and off the field.”
It does offensive coordinator Les Koenning’s heart good to see that kind of relationship between his QBs.
“That’s a neat feeling, because they’re holding up the bar really, really high,” Koenning said.
Prescott was limited in the spring due to surgery on his left big toe, but he’s nearing 100 percent health and will again be a key part of MSU’s offense. Could his role increase in order to take some pressure off Russell?
Koenning wouldn’t say, but Prescott will definitely be a factor.
“We’ll have a series that we can get him in there, play him, get him used to going,” Koenning said. “He’s had his time just like with Tyler. We developed him, we played him, and we put ourselves in a situation that it’s not new to him when he
just shows up.”
Being a dual-threat quarterback, Prescott offers defenses a different look. Last year, his entrance into a game often meant a running play, but as the season went on he showed an ability to pass the ball. Prescott completed 18 of 29 passes for 194 yards, four TDs and no interceptions.
Coaches are able to trust his arm in critical moments.
“The arm is there,” Koenning said. “Mechanically, and he knows this, clearing his hips and doing some things, staying on balance, he’ll feel more comfortable with it. He’s thrown some really good balls, if you look back at the LSU game and some of those things like that, he really has.”
Prescott’s knowledge of the offense is a big plus, too. Working closely with Russell has accelerated his learning, and it’s helped make him into a darn good “other” quarterback.
“I’m comfortable with every aspect of the offense and the playbook,” Prescott said. “It’s just my reads and my defenses, and I’ve gotten a lot better at that.”