MSU's Russell faces Tide after stark decision


Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell, seen here being tackled by Alabama's defense in 2011, turned down a scholarship offer from the Tide, opting to play under newly hired coach Dan Mullen.

Photo by The AP/Illustration by Jon McDonald
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 10:47 p.m.

Tyler Russell had what some would call an easy decision to make in December of 2008.

The highly touted quarterback was committed to Mississippi State, but the coach that recruited him, Sylvester Croom, was on his way out and Dan Mullen was on his way in.

Then, Nick Saban called.

Russell, a Meridian, Miss., native, wasn't swayed. He elected to play 92 miles away in Starkville, not 95 miles away in Tuscaloosa.

“He and I talked and he decommitted for a little while because he wanted to take a visit to take his time to get to know me,” Mullen said. “I remember he called me the night before I was back coaching at Florida for the national title game and said, ‘Coach, I want to be your quarterback. I want to be your leader.'

“I think what he understood at that point was we were going to build something special.”

After watching from the sidelines for three years, the redshirt junior has led the Bulldogs to a 7-0 record and a No. 11 BCS ranking.

Along the way, Russell has passed for 1,573 yards, 15 touchdowns and only one interception despite going largely unnoticed on the national scene.

But Russell has Saban's attention. He always has.

“We thought he was a really good player, and nothing that he's done is of surprise to me,” Saban recalled. “We thought he was a really talented guy, had a really good arm, good athlete, smart guy, and he's certainly demonstrated all those things in terms of the way he's played.”

It isn't like Saban settled for a lesser quarterback that offseason. In fact, he got a similarly efficient AJ McCarron.

While Russell did become the Bulldogs' starter midway through 2011 before getting injured, McCarron was the Tide's starter from the onset and led Alabama to a national title.

This year, McCarron has thrown for 1,476 yards, 16 touchdowns and 0 INTs, leading the nation in pass efficiency. He's also coming off the best performance of his career, going 17-of-22 passing for 306 yards and four scores against the Vols.

And it's McCarron's No. 1 Tide who are favored to win Saturday night's game in Tuscaloosa by 24 points. Still, there are other numbers to look at.

“We're both 7-0 and that's all you can ask for: a quarterback to go out there and lead the team,” Russell told The Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi. “He's done that and I've done that.”

Those aren't the only similarities MSU and Alabama share as the teams are first and third in the nation, respectively, in turnover margin.

And no matter what Vegas says, Saban feels this Mississippi State team is the best Alabama has played this season, and it's the best that Mullen has had in his four years in Starkville.

While Russell is on pace to set numerous school records, LaDarius Perkins is the latest in a string of talented running backs under Mullen, following Anthony Dixon and Vick Ballard, both of whom are in the NFL. Perkins leads the SEC with 724 yards and is the only back in the nation with a rushing touchdown in every game this season.

However, while Mullen's teams have been able to run the ball, they haven't been able to pass it until now. That balance will be tested against the nation's best defense.

As a whole, Mullen feels his team is ready for the challenge.

“You can see their intensity within the preparation really picking up this week,” Mullen said. “Our guys understand that this is a big game.”

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