DAY 17: TYLER RUSSELL
Don't let yourself be fooled. Sure, our defense should be stout and we've got some skilled playmakers on offense, but the difference in the Bulldogs going 6-6 or 9-3 falls on the arm of Tyler Russell. Seems like a lot of pressure? It is, and I hope Tyler is ready for it.
The RS-Jr quarterback has proven that he can put up good numbers against cellar-dweller defenses (see: Memphis '10-'11, UAB '11, and UK '11), but has struggled when asked to carry the load against the rest of the SEC. Russell was flawless when he came on in relief to lead MSU to a 21-3 victory at UAB last season(11-13 / 166 yds / 3 TDs), but only completed 37% of his passes the next week when he started in a 14-12 loss to South Carolina. With Chris Relf gone and the offensive playbook tuned to fit Russell's style, the Bulldogs need him to be more consistent this year. Need may be the wrong word...I think he HAS to be.
The good news for Tyler is that Mississippi State's schedule should allow him to find a nice rhythm early on. Auburn will provide a challenge, but they don't have a shutdown pass defense (51st nationally in '11) and are young in the secondary. After the Tigers, Russell gets a few soft defenses to pad his stats until the Bulldogs meet Tennessee (12th nationally against the pass in '11) on Oct. 13.
If Russell can gain some confidence against teams like Auburn and Tennessee (I'm not worried about JState, Troy, S. Alabama, and Kentucky), and hopefully a couple of victories, then the Bulldogs will be headed into the brutal part of their schedule (@Alabama, TAMU, @LSU, Arkansas) at least feeling good about their chances.