QB platoon will keep foes guessing

By Brad Locke | NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – If Mississippi State sticks with a platoon quarterback system, it might have a good template from Saturday’s win over Kentucky.
Tyler Russell and Chris Relf will remain in a weekly competition for the starting role, and for playing time in general, but if both keep practicing as well as they have lately, then both will play.
“You know, there’s no exact formula in how you do that or how it works,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said Monday. “A lot of it will depend on practice. It was hard to pick a starter last week.”
To Mullen, his quarterback situation is similar to the one he had at Bowling Green when serving as an assistant there. Josh Harris and Andy Sahm were locked in a battle and both played.
While Relf has lost his starting job – Russell’s taken the first snap the last two games – he’s clearly not going anywhere. The senior started MSU’s second possession against Kentucky and drove the team 80 yards for a touchdown.
He also entered a couple of times once Russell had led State into the red zone, and proceeded to score with his feet. The Bulldogs are by no means telegraphing their intentions to the defense when switching out QBs, because while Russell and Relf have their own strengths, they’re not one-trick ponies.
Kentucky linebacker Ridge Wilson told local media on Monday that MSU “kind of out-schemed us,” because the Wildcats planned more for the run. Relf and Russell combined to go 15 of 21 for 264 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Their collective QB rating was 318.51, their highest in a single SEC game since Russell started playing last year. It’s their third-highest overall, behind outings against Memphis this year (380.3) and Alcorn State last season (325.39).
However the platoon QB system pans out, offensive coordinator Les Koenning sees an intrinsic advantage in it, especially when run as smoothly as it was against Kentucky. Changing quarterbacks didn’t slow MSU’s up-tempo attack, and that makes it extra tough on opposing defensive coaches.
“So now they’ve got to think, OK, are they going to go fast, are they going to change quarterbacks, are they going to change personnel groupings?” Koenning said. “So we’re trying to keep that up, where they have to think a little bit.”
Family time
Halloween is about costumes and candy, but for Mullen, it serves as a reminder that family time can be found in the midst of a busy football season.
Mullen said he and his wife, Megan, were taking son Canon trick-or-treating Monday night – Dan as Mickey Mouse, Megan as Minnie Mouse, and Canon as little Mickey.
“I’m kind of a paranoid work-a-holic, and my wife also reminds me that not only do I have a family, but there’s a bunch of assistant coaches who have families,” Mullen said. “That’s kind of a neat deal, as a father, to be able to take your kids out trick-or-treating, so we’re going to let the staff go trick-or-treating tonight.”
Thorpe semifinalist
Cornerback Johnthan Banks is a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes annually to the nation’s top defensive back.
Banks, a junior from Maben, is tied for the SEC lead with five interceptions, and he’s tied for fourth nationally with 13 pass break-ups. With 12 career interceptions, he’s four shy of the school record held by Walt Harris.
Six other SEC players are among the 15 semifinalists. The winner will be announced Dec. 8.
brad.locke@journalinc.com