September 17, 2013 10:17:06 AM
STARKVILLE - Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen said Monday he has been fortunate never to have "a quarterback controversy" in his coaching career.
But the Bulldogs' fifth-year coach could face a decision Saturday that will test that assertion. With fifth-year senior Tyler Russell still not cleared to participate in physical contact and sophomore Dak Prescott coming off a solid performance Saturday in a loss to Auburn, Mullen may have to decide which players starts for MSU against Troy at 6:38 p.m. Saturday (FSN South) at Davis Wade Stadium.
"I've never had a quarterback controversy in all my years coaching, (and) I've never had a tailback controversy, linebacker controversy or any of that," Mullen said. "You do your job when we tell you to run on the field. Perception is always different than reality."
One of those perceptions is a player shouldn't lose his starting job due to an injury, but Mullen stressed Monday in the weekly media conference he doesn't and never has believed in that philosophy.
"Anybody can lose their job anytime," Mullen said. "I guess that sounds terrible, and I have a lot of faith in Tyler. He's won some pretty big games for us, and he's our starting quarterback, but in Dak we want to always train multiple starting quarterbacks."
Russell will continue to be monitored before the MSU medical staff decides to test him to determine if he is ready to begin physical contact. In his place, Prescott nearly led MSU (1-2) to a victory in his first career road start last weekend.
"I expect (Russell) to be back, but whether he is or isn't, I'm going to prepare like I'm the guy and get ready," Prescott said Monday.
Prescott was 15 of 28 for 213 yards. He also led MSU in carries (22), yards (133), and rushing touchdowns (two) on the ground. Prescott was 12 for 19 for 174 yards and three touchdowns in one half against Alcorn State in week two. In his first SEC start at Auburn, Prescott eclipsed those marks early in the third quarter.
On Saturday, Prescott became the first MSU quarterback to have 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game since Chris Relf did it in 2010 against Arkansas.
Mullen said Russell isn't scheduled to take his next concussion evaluation test until today. MSU medical staff members already have said the official concussion test is just one part of the process of clearing a player for contact.
"I know the assumption is they don't know who the starting quarterback is," Mullen said. "Dak knew he wouldn't be told til game day, but he had to prepare to be the starting since last Sunday. He'll prepare to be the starter today."
Russell was 10 of 16 for 133 yards against then-No. 13 Oklahoma State before he suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter and had to leave the game. Mullen said Monday he'll evaluate how Russell responds in practice when he is medically cleared to determine his team's starting quarterback.
"I've always handled that (with) a gut instinct I usually feel," Mullen said. "I need to see if he is cleared (and) how is he performing in practice. Is he as sharp as I want him to be when he is cleared?"
MSU has lost seven of its last eight games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams dating back to the 38-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 27, 2012.
"If we made one play in that (Auburn) game, I guess we have all the answers, right?," Mullen said. "When you lose, boy, you have no answers and everything is terrible."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.