November 13, 2012 4:16:34 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University junior quarterback Tyler Russell has been studying feverishly, but it has nothing to do with the fact that semester finals are less than a month away.
The number of late nights and hours starring at defenses in the film room is starting to pay off for the Bulldogs' leader. Russell showed Saturday he was capable of taking additional responsibility from MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning and reading defenses and making late-second audibles. The ability to do those things allowed the former Parade All-American to throw for a career-high in completions (26) and yards (295) against the nation's third best passing defense in a 37-17 loss.
"This game plan we went against LSU, the big concern of ours was the environment," Koenning said. "When you play at home it's a little different. When you are on the road, it can't be a pretty steep and pretty violent. Those guys get pretty loud and pretty crazy, so you have to make sure the communication is correct."
Russell communicated blocking assignment changes and new play calls at the line, and changed routes for his wide receivers in one of the most hostile environments in college football.
"I put so much time into watching film this past week," Russell said. "I knew what they were going to do before it even happened, so it was just go out there and take control and make plays. And we were able to do that at times."
In game where LSU was projected to dominate against an inconsistent offensive line, Russell changed protections to give him more time and got the ball out of his hands quickly. As a result, LSU had only two sacks, on back-to-back plays, for just 15 yards.
"We felt like some of their players are pretty good rushing the passer, so we did some things to try to get the ball out quick and it was effective," Russell said.
Russell sits just outside the top 50 in the nation in passing yards per game (224.9). He broke the single-season school record with his 17th touchdown pass, and tied the school's single-season record with his sixth 200-yard passing game of the season, giving him seven for his career. The Meridian native threw for 295 yards and has 3,918 for his career, passing Tommy Pharr (3,720 from 1967-1969) for seventh in school history in career passing yards.
"When we go recruit kids and bring them into these university, we are going to do what they can do," Koenning said. "(Tyler) really did a nice job getting us in the right plays and putting the ball in the right spots. When you a quarterback that can do that, you're proud of what he can do."
The top four receivers have at least 11 yards per reception thanks to Russell's accuracy. MSU receivers coach Tim Brewster has said Russell has a shot to play in the NFL in two years. Before being named the head coach at the University of Minnesota, Brewster was a tight ends coach with the NFL's Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers. In San Diego, Koenning got to see current NFL starting quarterback Phillip Rivers develop into a standout.
"I really believe Tyler Russell is going to be an outstanding National Football League quarterback (because) he has all the qualities that you look for," Brewster said. "He's upside is through the roof, (and) he is going to continue to grow as a player the more snaps he gets and the more live looks he gets. He is also more athletic than people give him credit for being."
Russell would be the first MSU quarterback drafted since the NFL decreased the number of rounds to seven. NFL teams have selected only three MSU quarterbacks. The most recent is Dave Marler (1975, 10th round).
Russell may be in a shootout at 11:21 a.m. Saturday (WCBI) when MSU (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) plays host to the University of Arkansas (4-6, 2-4). The Razorbacks have relied on Ryan Mallett and current quarterback Tyler Wilson to produce quality quarterback play in each of the past three victories against the Bulldogs.
Wilson holds 27 school records, including career completions (539) and career completion percentage (62.2). He also ranks in the top 10 in school history in career pass attempts (867, second), career passing yards (7,181, third), career total offense yards (7,089, third), career passing touchdowns (49, fourth), career touchdown responsibility (53, fourth), and career total offense plays (961, sixth).
"Their quarterback seems to always have a career game against us," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "You go into a game and, to their credit, they have NFL-style quarterbacks, and they have another one this year. When he is on, he's probably one of the top picks in the NFL draft and the best quarterbacks in the country."
Last week, Wilson broke the Arkansas career record for completions in a loss at the University of South Carolina. Last year against MSU, he was 32 of 43 for 365 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-17 win in Little Rock, Ark.
"We go down there against a Mississippi State team that has lost their last three and we feel like we're playing pretty good football as far our ideas and our schemes," Wilson said.
In a matchup of two of the SEC's top quarterbacks, it may be Russell who feels the most confident about the system he's running.
"Tyler is real smart, he has a great understanding of the offense, and you can tell with the coaches putting a lot of trust in him to make sure we're in the right play," MSU senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis said.
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