By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – In a sense, this is no longer Dan Mullen’s offense. It’s Tyler Russell’s offense.
The Mississippi State quarterback has shown the kind of command, in every facet, that suggests a quarterback who’s not only at ease in his role, but fully engaged in it. He has performed at a high level, but he’s also displayed the essential intangibles at a high level.
But to start with his play, Russell has completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 651 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions in three games. His completion percentage would be higher if not for several dropped passes in Saturday’s 30-24 win at Troy.
The drops clearly frustrated Russell, who finished the game 11 of 26 for 244 yards and three TDs. And this is where the intangibles come in.
He didn’t lash out at his receivers or walk away from them and sulk. He simply talked to them.
“Drops are going to happen,” Russell said. “Stay focused, we’ve still got a lot of time left in the game. We’ve got to go down the field and score. That was the main focus.”
He also told tailback LaDarius Perkins at halftime that he was going to need to carry a heavier load because “we can’t really complete anything right now.” Perkins responded by gaining 99 of his career-high 179 yards in the second half, and he had a big 30-yard run as MSU ran out the clock in the fourth quarter.
Head coach Dan Mullen thought Russell’s leadership and poise in the second half was a huge factor. And he liked that Russell didn’t change his approach when passing the ball.
“A lot of times guys, if guys start dropping balls, they’re just going to look to other guys, and Tyler doesn’t do that,” Mullen said. “He continues to stick with his reads, he trusts his receivers, and he continues to throw the ball where it’s supposed to go.”
He’s not one to cast blame. In fact, Russell has taken responsibility for the one time he’s been sacked this season, which happened in the Auburn game. He’s had nothing but praise for the offensive line.
Russell gained a good bit of experience the two previous seasons in part-time duty, and that’s aided him now as the No. 1 QB. The Troy game was much too close for comfort for No. 23 MSU, but Russell calmly made some big throws late, including a 25-yard touchdown to Chad Bumphis on a fourth-and-5, making it 30-21 Bulldogs.
It was up to Russell to make the proper read on that play.
“We had that route all day long. We ran it three times,” he said. “Chad did a good job of sticking the guy and I looked at Chad and the guy didn’t know where he was at, so I took a chance on fourth down and it paid off.”
It was one of those calculated risks Russell has become adept at taking. His coaches have complete faith in him to make such decisions, and the fact he has yet to commit a turnover is one thing that affirms that faith.
His teammates believe in him, too. They know who’s running the show.
“Tyler, he’s come a long way,” tailback Nick Griffin said. “It’s like he’s so smart now, he knows everything. He’s calm and relaxed, just dissecting defenses.”