Miss. State Football Overhauling Offense to Fit Russell's Strengths

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi State's offensive overhaul is in its final stages.

And much of its success will depend on Tyler Russell's progression as he takes over at quarterback after two seasons as the backup. Russell has a better arm than predecessor Chris Relf, but doesn't run as well, and the playbook has been tailored to his strengths.

Russell flashed some potential last season, throwing for 1,034 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions in a part-time role. Mullen has already said he expects Russell to have a "huge year" throwing to a group of experienced receivers, led by seniors Arceto Clark, Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith and Brandon Heavens.

Mullen saw more good things during Russell's first fall practice Thursday night, which was closed to reporters and the public.

"I see a Tyler that's very comfortable — not a guy that's thinking on the field," Mullen said. "I see a guy who is obviously going to make mistakes, but when he makes a mistake, he knows the mistake he made."

Mullen said he wasn't worried about overloading the offense with new plays, because most of what has been installed is already a part of the playbook. It just wasn't being used when Relf was directing a run-heavy scheme during the past two seasons.

"We use about 70 percent of our offense in each given season," Mullen said. "I would say 50 percent never changes so it's that last 20 percent that is about a fit on your team."

Russell needs to be good — and healthy — because the Bulldogs only have two scholarship quarterbacks. Redshirt freshman Dak Prescott is the backup. Mullen said he usually likes his quarterbacks to go endure some contact during preseason camp, but would have to change his philosophy this summer.

"This year we'll protect them a little bit more," Mullen said.

Russell's effectiveness also depends on an offensive line that is a work in progress. Guards Tobias Smith and Gabe Jackson bring the most experience while the Bulldogs try to develop young tackles Blaine Clausell and Damien Robinson.

While the offense finds its way, Mississippi State will lean on a defense that gave up just 19.7 points per game last season.

The Bulldogs are returning several experienced players on defense, including cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield, linebacker Cameron Lawrence and defensive tackle Josh Boyd. Lawrence was second in the SEC with 123 tackles last season, while Banks was tied for fourth with five interceptions.

Mississippi State is coming off two straight winning seasons, including victories in the Gator Bowl and Music City Bowl. But the Bulldogs are still trying to break into the top half of the SEC Western Division, which includes the past three national champions.

Mississippi State has a 3-12 record against the SEC Western Division the past three seasons, with all three wins coming over rival Mississippi. The Bulldogs will be tested early, hosting Auburn at Davis-Wade Stadium during the second week of the season.

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