December 14, 2012 9:55:59 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- One person's misfortune means opportunity for somebody else.
That wisdom depicts the quarterback situation for the Mississippi State University football team.
The ankle injury junior quarterback Tyler Russell suffered at the end of the loss to the University of Mississippi in the annual Egg Bowl game still has him limping in a protective boot. Russell's recovery has given redshirt freshman Dak Prescott a chance to take all of the first-team snaps as MSU (8-4) begins its first week of preparation for Northwestern University (9-3) in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2013, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Russell's injury, which school officials and MSU coach Dan Mullen confirmed won't hold him out his second straight bowl game, didn't play a role in how the coaches divided the repetitions in the first two weeks. Traditionally, MSU has used the practices before Christmas break to look at younger players who likely will have more significant roles next season, so while Russell's injury likely didn't factor in the number of throws Prescott has received in the first week of workouts, Russell's injury has given the coaches a greater opportunity to challenge Prescott with more of the spread-option offense playbook.
"He's getting to run the whole show and getting a lot of the reps," Mullen said Thursday after practice. "Tyler is getting some good rest, and I think that's really just going to help (Dak) as he continues to move forward."
This season, Prescott was used primarily in short-yardage and red-zone situations. It was a similar style to how Mullen divided the game plan in Tim Tebow's first season at the University of Florida when Mullen was an assistant coach to Urban Meyer and the Gators won a national championship.
Prescott threw for 194 yards and rushed for 98 yards in 11 games, and was a part of eight touchdowns (four rushing, four passing). As the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster, Prescott was being trained, sometimes unknowingly, to take over for Russell.
"We're always going to have plays for Dak, no matter what game it is," MSU junior tailback LaDarius Perkins said. "We know when he's on the field a play is going to be made. Either running or passing he's going to get the job done, and all of us have confidence in him."
Russell had a record-setting season at MSU. In his first season as the full-time starter, the former Parade All-American out of Meridian High School was one of three quarterbacks with more than 15 touchdowns and one interception through seven games. Russell finished the regular season with 2,791 yards passing and 22 touchdowns to seven receivers.
"Tyler had a good year, and I expect Tyler to have a better year next year because I expect him to take it to another level," Mullen said. "I expect him and Dak working together and pushing each other should be pretty exciting. With Dak, this is a great week to let him to take another step forward."
Despite the walking boot on his right foot, Russell was seen participating in pitch-and-catch individual drills with the receivers in the first two days of open practice. Russell was limited to things that required light mobility in practice.
"What we did with the trainers, is every other day with that," Mullen said. "He'll be back out throwing (Friday), and throw a day, rest a day. The whole key was to make sure he was ready to go Monday when we start the game plan."
Last season, Russell missed the Music City Bowl with a knee injury despite going through practices and workouts. The injury forced him to have surgery in the offseason.
Mullen and MSU hope Russell and Prescott will understand the offense so opponents will have to game plan for both next season.
"We have showed a little bit of my power fade pass with me," Prescott said Nov. 17 after a 45-14 victory against the University of Arkansas. "Now they can't load up the box and come at me. They have to be ready for the pass, too."
Prescott was 2 of 2 for 28 yards and had six carries for 17 yards and a touchdowns against the Razorbacks.