The last four seasons for the Mississippi State Bulldogs under head coach Dan Mullen have been a ray of light compared to previous ones before he arrived. The Bulldogs have finished with a winning record and made bowl appearances each of the last three seasons. A big part of that turnaround has been incumbent fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Russell.
Russell and the Bulldogs started off 2012 with a 7-0 record and rose as high as No. 13 in the rankings. They quickly came back down to earth with three-straight losses to the Alabama Crimson Tide, Texas A&M Aggies and LSU Tigers. Russell and the Bulldogs would go on to finish the year on a disappointing 1-5 slide to end 8-5. Russell, now a senior, looks to end his time in Starkville on a high.
Russell had a breakout campaign in 2012, throwing for career highs in yards (2,897), a school record in touchdowns (24), attempts (394) and completions (231). But, there were times when he continued to struggle with his decision making and turned in sub-par performances against competition he should have no problems with, most notably his outing last Sept. against South Alabama in which he completed just 48% of his passes and threw for one pick and no scores.
Consistency will be key for Russell. His 58.6 completion percentage was not bad, but it also has a lot of room for improvement. Three times he had games where he threw below 50% (South Alabama, 42.3% vs. Troy and 42.9 vs. Northwestern), something he simply cannot afford to do with the level of competition the Bulldogs face on a weekly basis. He has all the physical tools you look for in an SEC quarterback but must improve his decision-making.
What could make it very challenging for Russell to try and surpass his numbers from 2012 is the situation at wide receiver. Mississippi State is virtually going through a complete overhaul at the position, losing all three starters to graduation. There is also a new wide receivers coach in Billy Gonzales, so Russell will have to get acquainted with the new faces quickly to best last year.
Junior Jameon Lewis is expected to take the lead role for the departed Chad Bumphis. Lewis has seen little playing time during his first two seasons for the Bulldogs because he was backing Bumphis. Russell’s relationship with him could be a huge key for the 2013 season. It helps Russell that he has a formidable running back to hand off to in LaDarius Perkins (1,024 yards and eight TDs), who should keep opposing defenses honest.
Overall, the fifth-year senior has a chance to end his career as one of the better signal callers to come through the school in the past decade. If Russell can improve his accuracy and decision-making, and develop good pass-catch relationships with the new receivers, 2013 could be his best season in the white and maroon.