August 31, 2012 11:19:14 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen says the winning formula for his football team won't change.
However, with four senior starting wide receivers and a former Parade All-American -- junior Tyler Russell -- at quarterback, the prevailing thought is MSU will become a pass-first football offense. MSU's season opener at 6 p.m. Saturday (Fox Sports South) against Jackson State University should give Mullen and his assistant coaches an opportunity to define the personality of the offense again.
"Our personality is never going to change," Mullen said. "We want to run the football and be a very physical team, but the expectations the guys have in themselves of making plays in the passing game can make you a more explosive offense."
In Mullen's first three years at MSU, his offense has averaged at least 175.3 yards rushing per season. It also has had a passing game without experienced receivers and quarterbacks who are true pocket passers. Without a consistent drop-back passing game, Mullen said almost a third of the playbook he used as offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer at the University of Utah and at the University of Florida hasn't been used in Starkville.
"Our philosophy won't change, but you'll see differences in this year's team utilizing Tyler (Russell's) passing abilities," Mullen said. "You might see more five wide receivers this year. We might lean more or use 30 percent more of the offense we haven't used as much the last couple years."
Junior LaDarius Perkins will be the leader in the running game, but the Bulldogs' speed option at tailback hasn't shown he can handle a 15-20 carry load at the Division I level. On Saturday, the 215-pounder will have a chance to prove he is up to that challenge against a defense that has nine seniors and two juniors in its starting lineup. Other than Perkins, MSU's other running backs have 16 total carries.
"The one thing Perkins has that gets overlooked is he's 190 pounds," Mullen said. "He's obviously not tall, but he's a pretty stout guy. It's something that helps him. Sometimes you look at him and wonder how he can be an every down guy, but actually he's pretty stout."
Russell, who wasn't available to the media this week, has played in 17 games, including four starts last season. That experience should give Mullen more freedom calling plays in a spread-option attack.
"He's been in SEC football games, so it's been pretty good to have him under control under the center," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "He understands the tempo and what it's like and what we need done."
Russell is the school's career leader in pass efficiency, and Mullen expects there to be more big plays in the passing game because of his confidence in Russell's decision-making.
"He has pretty much taken over," junior offensive guard Gabe Jackson said. "He has demanded more of everyone. He's doing extra things and working hard, going out, throwing balls. I feel like he is more of a vocal leader than he has been in the past. He has always been the type to work hard and be a leader, but he has done a better job this year of stepping it up and taking control."
Russell will have veterans at wide receiver. Seniors Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith, who played with Russell at Meridian High School, will line up outside of him Saturday.
"When you go into that stadium, you got to be focused and be ready to play," Russell said last week. "I think I made some plays, but I've got to be more consistent, and I think I'm working on that. I think we'll be fine."
Jackson State, which is coming off a 9-2 season, will have to reload after losing offensive coordinator Ernest Wilson and record-setting quarterback Casey Therriault.
During his two seasons at JSU, Therriault set or tied records in pass completions, completion percentage, and touchdown passes. Derrick McCall will take over play-calling duties, and Dedric McDonald will start at quarterback. He beat out Louisville native and University of Akron transfer Clayton Moore for the job.
"I know a lot of times you see these games and some of these kids have been up here and played in this environment before, played here three years ago (when MSU won 49-7), so they have the experience of playing here," Mullen said. "I know they have an experienced team. They expect to win a SWAC championships this year."
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