By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – The Tyler Russell era arrived on Saturday, and it showed some promise.
After a week of intense speculation about Mississippi State’s quarterback situation, Russell got the nod against No. 15 South Carolina. It broke senior Chris Relf’s string of 19 consecutive starts.
Russell, the third-year sophomore from Meridian, said he found out Friday afternoon he would start. He was 11 of 29 for 165 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in the Bulldogs’ 14-12 loss to No. 15 South Carolina.
The numbers are a bit misleading, as he was taking hits all day and was forced to throw away several balls.
“I think he was comfortable from the start. That’s how Tyler is,” tailback Vick Ballard said. “He don’t change, he stays pretty consistent. The throws he was making today, he makes them in practice.”
There’s one throw he’d like to have back. With MSU trailing 14-10, Russell directed the offense down to South Carolina’s 32-yard line, but he fluttered a pass that was picked off by D.J. Swearinger with 1:45 to go.
Russell appeared to get his arm hit on the throw by defensive end Melvin Ingram.
“I saw press man-to-man, and I was going to give Arceto Clark, see if he could make a play on the ball,” Russell said. “I was going to back-shoulder it, and I just didn’t look off the free safety, and he intercepted it.”
For the most part, Russell made good decisions in the face of relentless pressure. He was only sacked once but took shots whether he stayed in the pocket or rolled out.
“I didn’t do well enough to win the game,” he said. “That’s what you look at.”
Russell just missed on some deep throws that could have gone for six and made for a different outcome. He felt he settled in quickly, but he led a 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive in the first quarter – passing only once, on the 19-yard TD to Chris Smith, Russell’s old high school teammate.
MSU was 7 of 16 on third-down conversions, including 6 of 10 in the second half. Russell was a big reason for that, completing 5 of 7 passes on third down after halftime.
Relf didn’t play a snap, although coach Dan Mullen said he had planned on getting him into the game.
Mullen said Russell got the nod simply because he “graded out slightly higher” than Relf and third-stringer Dylan Favre. Russell worked his way into the conversation after going 11 of 13 for 166 yards and three TDs the week before against UAB, having replaced Relf in the second half.
“Tyler’s done a great job for us. In two years he sat here waiting for an opportunity, waiting for his opportunity,: Mullen said. “He got an opportunity last week and seized it.”