September 23, 2013 9:21:27 AM
STARKVILLE -- The statement couldn't be misunderstood.
Minutes after a 62-7 victory against Troy on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium, Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen made sure everybody knew who was the Bulldogs' starting quarterback. The individual he named didn't play in the 55-point blowout.
"Tyler (Russell) is our starting quarterback," Mullen said. "We plan on Tyler being the starter against LSU and going forward."
Leading up to the game against Troy, Mullen and his coaches gave the impression Russell would return for MSU's game against LSU on Oct. 5 at Davis Wade Stadium. MSU (2-2) has a bye week this week.
MSU lost Russell on a first-down scramble in a season-opening 21-3 loss to then-No. 13 Oklahoma State. Defensive tackle James Castleman dragged Russell down while sophomore linebacker Ryan Simmons finished the play. Replays shown on the Reliant Stadium jumbotron and on television appeared to show inadvertent contact between Simmons' leg and Russell's head. Minutes later, members of the MSU training staff led Russell off the field. He was later diagnosed with a concussion that has forced him to miss the last three games.
Sophomore Dak Prescott, who has been listed in front of Russell on the official depth chart for two weeks, has played well in victories against Alcorn State and Troy and in a 24-20 loss at Auburn. Against Troy, Prescott was 13 of 21 for 233 yards and a touchdown. He also led MSU in rushing in the first half with 53 yards and two scores. In a little more than 12 minutes directing the offense, Prescott had a career-high 296 all-purpose yards.
Through four games, Prescott is fourth among Southeastern Conference quarterbacks in rushing and ninth among all players in total offense (231 yards per game). The defenses Prescott has faced were a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, Auburn (ranked 96th in the nation) and Troy (ranked 85th).
"Tyler got cleared to play, but it was late in the week, and since Dak had taken all the live reps against the (first-string) defense, we thought we'd give Dak the start," Mullen said. "Tyler had done seven-on-seven and scout team stuff, but hadn't taken a live rep with the ones. That's what led to the decision."
Prescott said Russell is the leader of the team and that he is ready to play whatever role Mullen and the coaches need him.
"(Russell's) the guy, so when he's healthy and all the way back we'll all follow him," Prescott said. "I've got things to work on and we'll get better as a team as well."
Mullen said last week he never has had a quarterback controversy in his coaching career. He has said this season that Russell would play when he was medically cleared to play, he'd be put in the lineup. He also said "anybody can lose their job anytime." Prescott's play the past three games has created a discussion about which quarterback will start for MSU.
"I have a lot of faith in Tyler," Mullen said. "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."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.