By Brad Locke | NEMS Daily Journal
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Mississippi State might not have a No. 1 quarterback, but what it’s doing is working.
At least, it did in Saturday’s 28-16 victory over Kentucky.
Chris Relf and Tyler Russell both played quarterback – Russell started – and both burned Kentucky in their own way. Russell did it through the air, Relf with his legs.
They were a combined 15 of 21 for 264 yards, each with a touchdown pass. Relf also ran for two scores.
It was the first action for Relf since being yanked after the first half against UAB two games ago. Ever since, head coach Dan Mullen has kept the QB question an open one.
“We graded them again last week, and they were very, very close,” offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. “I think the final grades came out 72-73 on the grades. I said, ‘Coach, they’re right even with each other.’ He said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a plan for both of them. Let’s go.’”
Mullen didn’t just rotate the QBs by series. He often put Relf in once MSU reached the red zone, and that worked just fine, with Relf scoring on runs of 3 and 12 yards to cap drives that began with Russell under center.
“They both got the job done tonight, and I was happy for them,” tailback Vick Ballard said. “Chris lately, he’s been facing a lot of adversity. I was just happy to see him get back in the end zone.”
The platoon was effective from the get-go. After MSU fumbled it away on its second offensive play of the game, Relf took over and led an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that he capped with a 15-yard strike to Ricco Sanders.
Relf was 5 of 7 for 77 yards on the drive, with 26 of those yards coming on an option pitch to Chad Bumphis that was ruled a forward pass. He also hit Sanders for 15 yards and Marcus Green for 16 on a third-and-7 from Kentucky’s 46.
Russell led an 80-yard drive and hit Malcolm Johnson for a 13-yard score in the third quarter. He was 4 of 5 for 65 yards on the drive.
So will this two-QB system continue going forward?
“A lot of people try to make a big deal out of it,” Russell said, “but whoever coaches call, we’re going to be ready. Chris feels the same way.”