From The Mississippi Link Newswire
STARKVILLE – Nine weeks into the season, Dan Mullen still doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do with his quarterbacks.
But the Mississippi State head coach does know he wants it to be just that: Quarterbacks, plural.
His choices are senior Chris Relf, the sometimes struggling dual-threat who has the edge in experience and running ability, or sophomore Tyler Russell, the pocket passer who took over the starting role on Oct. 15 against South Carolina.
The two both played well in the Bulldogs’ 28-16 over Kentucky on Saturday.
Russell started the first series against Kentucky on Saturday, went three-and-out and was replaced by Relf on the second series. From there on, the switched in-and-out of the game and played better as the game continued, combining for 264 yards passing and four total touchdowns.
On Monday, Mullen said MSU’s game in Lexington may have provided a decent blueprint for how he will use his quarterbacks going forward. Then again, he said, it may not.
Mississippi State (4-4) hosts Tennessee-Martin (5-3) on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium. The Skyhawks play in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“Found a good one that worked last Saturday,” said Mullen, who has been cryptic all season about his quarterback race. “You know, there’s no exact formula in how you do that or how it works. A lot of it will depend on practice. It was hard to pick a starter last week. They both performed very well in practice over the course of the week, especially as the game got closer.”
Mullen has stressed throughout the season that his decision is made based on who performs the best in practice.
Mullen said one thing he likes about playing two quarterbacks is it keeps defenses guessing. On Saturday, Mullen switched quarterbacks not only on a drive-to-drive basis but within the drive, as well. Mullen believes he has an edge when other teams see Relf take the field and expect him to run it, even though he has the capability to throw.
“Tyler came in as the passer, Chris came in as more of an athletic runner, but Tyler ran for a big first down the other night,” Mullen said. “Chris made some tough throws. They’ve developed those other things that allow that balance.”
MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said the constant quarterback shuffle is a positive.
“I think it’s absolutely great, because as a defensive coordinator, they’re gonna game plan each quarterback and now they have to change their thoughts right in the middle of a drive rather than when you put them in by series,” Koenning said.
“So we’re going to start one of them, and we might put the other one in at any time.”
The two-quarterback system provided some statistical surprises. The usually run-heavy Bulldogs gained only 134 yards on the ground, compared to 264 through the air.
Mullen said his program has developed such a run-first reputation that passing opportunities are almost always available if the Bulldogs can take advantage.
“We’ve established the run historically in games prior … so the pass has been open before we even hit the field,” Mullen said. “By completing those passes hopefully it balances us again and makes us have to go establish the run on the field to get them up to the line of scrimmage to be able to throw the ball.”