By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Although he’s only been at Mississippi State for two months, receivers coach Tim Brewster has seen plain evidence of Tyler Russell’s progression this season.
Over his last three games, the junior quarterback has been at his sharpest: 63 of 97 (65 percent) for 751 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s the best three-game stretch of Russell’s career.
He was 17 of 21 for 191 yards and three scores in last week’s win over Middle Tennessee State.
“I just can’t even tell you how impressed I am with Tyler Russell and his development as a quarterback just over the course of seven games this season,” Brewster said. “Extremely composed. I think that’s the No. 1 attribute a quarterback can have, is calmness under duress.”
Brewster praised offensive coordinator Les Koenning with helping Russell improve his footwork and making reads on pass routes. And as he mentioned, Russell is hard to fluster in the pocket when the pressure is closing in.
“The other thing about him is he stares down the gun barrel about as well as anybody I’ve been around,” Brewster said. “He’ll stand in that pocket, and he’ll look at that pass rush, and he’ll deliver the football.”
On the rise
As Russell goes, so goes MSU’s offense, and that unit looks to be hitting its stride heading into Saturday’s showdown at No. 1 Alabama.
The No. 13 Bulldogs have racked up 1,323 yards of offense over the last three games, their most prolific three-game stretch since the start of last season.
“I think we’ve gotten comfortable,” Russell said. “The offensive line’s doing a great job, the running backs are doing good, the wide receivers are catching the ball. For me it’s just putting the ball in positions for people to make plays.”
MSU’s offensive line has yielded just six sacks, which ranks second in the SEC, and has opened holes for tailback LaDarius Perkins, the league’s leading rusher with 724 yards.
State’s coaches appear to be withholding judgment on the offense, which might be a good idea considering the stretch that’s coming up, including games against Texas A&M and LSU.
“We’re starting to get into the root of our schedule here,” Koenning said. “I’ll let you know here a little bit later. They’ve played well so far.”
Head coach Dan Mullen, when asked about whether the offense and Russell are hitting their stride, said, “I guess. They’ve made plays, done what we needed them to do. I think he’s – we’re executing at a little bit higher level maybe than we have in some of those other games. We’re not making the mistakes that really kill drives.
“That’s why we’ve been able to score.”
on the upswing
Russell’s execution has increased dramatically. He was a combined 24 of 53 (45.3 percent) for 415 yards in wins over Troy and South Alabama.
Suddenly, he’s more accurate and has squeezed the ball through some tight windows.
Brewster is more than willing to praise Russell for that.
“Either you can throw it where you want it as hard as you want it, or else you can’t,” Brewster said. “Tyler Russell can throw it as hard as he wants it, where he wants to throw it. He’s an extremely accurate quarterback.
“He allows us to catch the ball and run with it, and that’s what we want to do in this offense, is catch and run.”