April 17, 2010 11:35:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen called Saturday''s Maroon-White Game a "celebration" of the hard work his team put in during spring practice.
Basically, the Maroon team won 26-13 and the announced crowd of 34,127 got to see the team''s redshirt players from last season.
Most notably, it was quarterback Tyler Russell in his first "big atmosphere" performance.
With the team split in half, Russell had just one of Mississippi State''s starting linemen and struggled early on.
Russell, who quarterbacked the white team, was 12 of 27 for 125 yards and two interceptions. He was sacked three times and had his first pass of the game picked off by Damien Anderson.
But judging by the crowd''s applause when he took the field, the crowd didn''t need a flawless performance from the redshirt quarterback, mainly because his counterpart, Chris Relf was the more effective passer on the day.
Relf was 13 of 24 for 184 yards and two touchdowns. He wasn''t sacked or picked off.
The quarterback competition has seen both players split first team reps in practice and during scrimmages.
Russell wasn''t pleased with his performance, but he was happy to get more reps and something else to draw experience from.
"I''m the type of person who needs a couple of plays to get my confidence going," Russell said. "The first pass, I wish I would have completed it, but it ended up being intercepted. That''s something I''ve got to learn as I mature. You''ve got to learn to think about the next play.
"In the spring game and spring practice, you see the things you do good and you see the things you do bad. Coaches threw a lot on us to see what we could retain, and you make your evaluations from there."
Mullen knows there''s a long summer before the quarterback competition really heats up between Relf and Russell in August, so he isn''t ready to choose a starter. After playing two quarterbacks last season and at every school he''s coached, he considers the race for a starter''s job a moot topic.
"I don''t know, it''s just so long before we play," Mullen said. "I think what you say today is a guy that''s been in this situation and playing in this type of atmosphere before and a guy that hasn''t. That''s the biggest difference we saw today between the two. It''s a long time before we have to play a game. Our job is to keep developing those guys."
As Mississippi State''s record-breaking tailback Anthony Dixon signed autographs for nearly an hour on the Maroon sideline, the candidates to replace him were on display.
Junior college transfer Vick Ballard and redshirt freshman Montrell Conner combined for 133 yards on 23 carries to lead the Maroon team.
Mullen has been keen to establish depth at running back and receiver and it was Conner who stood out in the final week or practice and Saturday''s game.
"I think we found some depth in those guys right there," Mullen said. "Montrell, the injury (knee) set him back a little bit and it was great the last couple of days and today to get out here to run the ball and do some different things. When you have a guy like Anthony Dixon, who you can turn and hand the ball to 30 something times a game and he walks a way, you better have some depth."
Ballard put the Maroon team ahead 14-3 with 3:38 remaining until halftime.
Marcus Green extended the Maroon team''s lead by a touchdown with a 15-yard reception from Relf.
Green had five catches for 56 yards and a touchdown to lead the Maroon team.
Between both squads, MSU tight ends Green, Brandon Henderson and Kendrick Cook combined for 105 receiving yards on nine grabs.
As the Bulldogs head into summer workouts and later fall camp, receiving depth will remain an issue even with a solid crop of freshmen coming in.
Added emphasis on the tight end position was evident in the spring game, and Green is the focal point of a unit that gets different options with each player.
"The main thing right now, I just make sure I do my part no matter what it is," Green said. "Right now, with the lack of depth, if (Mullen) puts me on the inside or outside I just play."
When asked if the team any group of players stood out during the spring practice period or during Saturday''s game, Mullen mentioned the team''s secondary.
"Today, guys I kept noticing were Nikoe Whitley and Dennis Thames, which is great for us at the safety position," Mullen said. "The more depth we have back there gives us the luxury to move Johnathan Banks around as we have those young safeties develop."
The Maroon team held a lopsided advantage in total yards, out-gaining the White team 356-182.
Sean Ferguson had two sacks for the Maroon team.