STARKVILLE — Tyler Russell is able to watch himself on film in the final two games of the 2012 season and smile at what he’s learning.
However, it took some time for the Mississippi State University fifth-year senior quarterback to get in the proper mind-set to accurately evaluate what went so wrong in losses to the University of Mississippi and Northwestern University to culminate a disappointing finish.
“I finally looked at that in the summer because it motivated me to get better and know what my weaknesses are,” Russell said. “Quite frankly, my main weakness is not understanding at times that I’m not a superhero and can’t force things that aren’t there.”
Russell, who is entering his second and final season in Starkville as the projected starting quarterback, had nine of his 10 interceptions last season in a final six game stretch that included losses to eventual national champion University of Alabama, Louisiana State University and Texas A&M University. The losses from late October to New Year’s Day began to pile up and ruin the program’s excitement over a 7-0 start.
“Each individual player also takes that attitude to set every school offensive record this every single year,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “That’s one of the competitive drives that guys have and that’s the type of program we want to have, the competitiveness to want to be the best they can be.”
Whether it was appropriate or not, Russell told the media two months ago at Southeastern Conference media days that he apologized to his teammates for his lack of preparation. In a role reversal, the MSU quarterback has taken a leadership role as a co-captain to lead the MSU offense in a much more vocal way.
“We’ve had team meetings where he apologized to all of us but I almost wondered why he was doing it to be honest,” MSU junior center Dillon Day said. “It happens to all of us so why should he be taking all the blame? We all believe in him and everyone looks up to him.”
Russell decided in the summer to lead workouts with his receivers that would start at 7 a.m., and the purpose was to get youthful receivers used to playing at a high tempo in the spread-option offense. Russell has been constantly dealing with injuries to his wide receiver teammates in fall camp. Top tight end Malcolm Johnson continues to be held out of practices but is expected to play in the season opener against No. 13 Oklahoma State University in Reliant Stadium in Houston.
“We’re all on the same page right now and that’s actually surprising because of how young we are on offense,” Russell said. “You have to follow the older guys that are always going hard in practice.”
Russell currently stands as the school’s all-time leader in passing efficiency (136.38) and is only one passing touchdown away from the tying the school record for passing touchdowns (38), held by Derrick Taite from 1993-96.
“All those numbers are great but I can’t make the same mistakes I made last year,” Russell said. “I felt I needed to prove to my older teammates that could play in the SEC. Now I’m the older guy that has to lead.”
Despite completing the most productive season by a MSU quarterback, Russell knew he’d eventually have to cue up the final two games to improve in 2013.
“One thing Tyler does is be a hard worker studying the film, always looking at things,” Mullen said. “There’s just so much to learn. I mean all you’ve got to do is call one play against a weird defense, and a receiver falls down. At that point, you realize you don’t know what to do in that situation. Not until you get to about 10,000 reps you’ve got it.”
For a player who broke 11 single-season school records including completing 231 passes for 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns, Russell knows he’s facing a national championship spotlight to start the 2013 season. It’s a game against Oklahoma State where Mullen told his boss, MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin, to schedule the game in Houston because of his fifth-year senior quarterback.
“So it’s just about constantly working at all the stuff, but he does it all the time,” Mullen said. “The nice thing is he works on everything and enjoys it. You see the things he’s got but to him it’s always about trying to take one or two more steps forward every single day.”