October 29, 2012 9:04:03 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE - It's one of the more simple acts that a athlete can execute.
Tyler Russell completed it over and over and over again Saturday during the loss at the University of Alabama. The Mississippi State University junior quarterback just kept getting back up.
The Crimson Tide defense, which leads the Southeastern Conference in nearly every defensive statistical category, created 10 quarterback hurries according to the box score but it seemed like every one of the 30 passing attempts for Russell involved the Bulldogs quarterback receiving physical contact.
"What I saw out of my quarterback tonight is toughness," MSU senior offensive guard Tobias Smith said. "Tyler got hit and kept getting upand didn't look any different one time in the huddle."
Russell was 15-of-30 for 169 yards and a interception in the 38-7 loss at Alabama but the respect he maintained from his teammates and coaches can't be reflected with statistics. The respect is on the film when the former Parade All-America selection was knocked to the ground or even sacked but only to find a way to his feet to call the next play in the huddle.
"I was really pleased with the way they played," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "I think we affected the quarterback a little bit, but we didn't get a lot of sacks. I think we did affect them some."
Russell was not named in the injury report by MSU head coach Dan Mullen Monday despite the punishment endured at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday.
One of the major perceived weaknesses in Russell's game is his consistent habit of holding on to the ball too long knowing he'll receive a physical shot from a bigger defensive player. Russell found open receivers down the field on several occasions including a 97-yard drive that resulted in an interception in the end zone. The Bulldogs' 16-play drive in the third quarter was their longest drive of the season.
It's the willingness to accept punishment and a physical pounding that has allowed the five offensive lineman in front of Russell to play at a higher level than their experience level should suggest.
"Unlike some guys I've seen, he's not going to throw it away or duck and eat it," MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy said. "I've seen a lot of quarterbacks take a dive and Tyler has a set on him to throw the ball like he does at times in traffic."
What fans and people on the inside of the coaching rooms don't understand is on occasion a defensive system will send more blitzers than can be blocked and in that scenario it is Russell's responsibility to find the open receiver for a catch-and-run play.
"The one thing he does is when he knows he's hot is get the ball out," Hevesy said. "He's going to stand there and throw a bullet and then brace for the giant hit coming his way."
In a week Mullen continually keeps referring to as the "most important game of the season" for MSU (7-1, 3-1) when Texas A&M University come to Davis Wade Stadium (11 a.m., ESPN), the Bulldogs fourth-year head coach doesn't have any concerns about his quarterback going forward in the final month of the regular season.
"I know what we have in Tyler," Mullen said. "We have a guy that I trust as the leader of our team. He's a guy that shows great toughness and will show resiliency throughout the game."
Russell, who is fifth in the SEC in passing yards (1,742) and sixth in touchdown passes (15), will be asked to put up points this weekend as A&M (6-2, 3-2 in SEC) boasts the best scoring offense at 45.5 points per game.
"In his maturity and his development, I don't worry about him not responding well to this," Mullen said. "I think he'll respond great to this and come out with some great leadership and demeanor in how he leads the team during this week.
Russell passed the man he backed up early in his MSU career in Chris Relf for eighth all-time in school history in career passing yards (3,411). The junior from Meridian will tie the school's single-season touchdown record with just one more in 2012.
"What I was most impressed by his frustration over missing throws by seconds or inches even when it resulted in a completion," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "When you're off by just a hair in this league or the professional one, it separates a good play from a touchdown."