STARKVILLE — Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen just wanted his senior quarterback to settle in and get back in a rhythm last weekend.
Tyler Russell didn’t listen. He decided to throw a touchdown pass on his third throw of the game and continued to break career records in a 59-26 loss against No. 10 LSU Saturday.
Russell hit junior wide receiver Jameon Lewis on a timing route in the back of the end zone that beat double zone coverage.
On the next possession, Russell found De’Runnya Wilson for a touchdown strike vertically down the field. The pitch and catch gave MSU a 23-21 lead and left behind the negative emotion of a Davis Wade Stadium crowd hissing after LSU’s defense attacked Russell for a sack on his first play. The bad memory of the first play and the proceeding crowd reaction didn’t faze the Bulldogs fifth-year senior.
“I am the type of person that once I get out there, it takes me like one or two plays to get going,” Russell said Monday after practice. “So that was my one play I needed that I got sacked on. After that I knew I was ready and that drive, we went down there and scored.”
On the play to Lewis, Russell felt like he was in the twilight zone because the Tigers lined up in the exact same coverage as last year’s flag route at LSU to Chad Bumphis. Russell’s experience showed up in a big way in that red zone conversion because Russell changed the play, protection and route for Lewis on the sequence.
“It was the exact same thing so I’ve seen it before,” Russell said in his first media opportunity since suffering a concussion against Oklahoma State. “They brought the same thing and I was fast and quick and I knew the protection I wanted to call and the route I wanted to call. I guess it was just muscle memory and I knew what to do. We really didn’t go over that play at all during the week. Actually we had it on a check but I felt that would be the better thing at that moment and it worked out for me.”
Russell finished 7-of-11 for 146 yards and two touchdowns but couldn’t get many snaps in the second half when LSU began to pull away for another victory in Starkville. In Russell’s last two games against LSU, he has completed 33-of-49 passes for 441 yards and three touchdowns.
“When you’ve played as much as he has, you take positives, negatives in stride,” Mullen said. “He’s been sacked, he’s thrown interceptions; he’s now the school’s all-time leading touchdown passer. All those things come in stride of him, which you always want. Which is take what’s happened on that play and translate into what you can do on the next play or future plays in the game. He’s done a good job of that for us.”
After all of the fan anticipation and opining about the starting quarterback debate between Russell and sophomore Dak Prescott, MSU coaches continue to stress how they’re going to play both players a significant amount this season.
“The competition is great because you got two guys that can play at a high level for you so they’re all wondering what the grades from practice was,” MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. “Neither of them want to mess up because they know it’ll cost them time in games.”
Koenning said he’s happy with the way Russell has handled the dual quarterback situation and took the leadership role during his concussion battle to get Prescott ready to succeed in a road environment at Auburn.
“At first it was frustrating for me to sit, especially wanting to play in big-time games like Auburn,” Russell said. “But I knew my role was to help in any way that I could and do my best to get the crowd up, get our team up and help Dak out.”
Russell’s two touchdowns accounted for during the game gave him 42 in his career, surpassing Wayne Madkin and moving into a tie with John Bond for third on the program’s all-time list. Russell threw two touchdown passes, surpassed Derrick Taite for the program’s career touchdown passes record with 39.
When Russell arrived on campus as a Parade All-American selection out of Meridian High School, he admitted to peeking at the MSU passing records to see how he could leave a impact on the program.
“When we first got here, me and Chad Bumphis were roommates and you look through the records and that is what you do as freshmen,” Russell said. “He said something like ‘hey man, we could break these records’.”
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.