A Statistical Look Into the Quarterback Controversy

Tyler Russell (left) and Dak Prescott (right) celebrating after a victory of Tennessee - (October 12, 2012 - Source: Butch Dill/Getty Images North America)

Dan Mullen has said he is sticking with Tyler Russell as his quarterback. The numbers from both quarterbacks, Russell and Prescott, suggest he may want to reconsider this stance.

On October 5th, the Mississippi State Bulldogs will take on the LSU Tigers at Davis-Wade Stadium. Head coach Dan Mullen will be charged with one of his toughest decisions yet at Mississippi State: who will be the starting quarterback when the Bulldogs take the field next Saturday?

"Tyler (Russell) is our starting quarterback. We plan on Tyler being the starter against LSU moving forward."

Not many can blame him for that decision. Tyler Russell was the first big-time in state commit Mullen reined in when he first came to Starkville. Russell is a fifth year senior, and he started a few games in 2011 and every game in 2012. He was also the man heading into this season, before suffering a concussion in the season opener against Oklahoma State.

Since the injury, Dak Prescott has taken the team and the rabid Mississippi State fan base by storm. In just three career starts Dak has gone from the back-up quarterback to what seems like a viable starter in the SEC, and has been improving each and every game.

Last season, the roles of the two quarterbacks were very simple. Russell was the undoubted starter, while Prescott would enter the game in short yardage situations to typically only run the ball. It was simple: Tyler was the better passer, and Dak the better rusher.

But what do the numbers say? Would a deeper look at the numbers tell a different story between what is perceived as common knowledge? Or would the numbers just confirm what we think we already know?

Tyler Russell started every single game last season. Dak Prescott has only started in three games this season, so his sample size is significantly smaller. Since both only played about a half of the dismal Oklahoma State game, I will not be counting that game in any of their overall statistics.

COMPLETION PERCENTAGE: Last season Russell completed just under 59 percent of his passes for the season. That is not an awful percentage, but it was only good enough to rank tenth in the SEC. In Prescott’s three starts this season, he has connected on just a tad over 55 percent. EDGE: RUSSELL Both players have been completing about the same amount of their passes thus far. While their completion percentage is about the same, neither is quite impressive when compared to the other numbers from the SEC.

PASSING THREAT: In the run heavy SEC Russell was bit higher on the list when it came to passing yards per game. Russell was seventh last season in this category with 223 yards per game. Prescott is averaging 208 yards per game. EDGE: RUSSELL Russell averaged more passing yards last season than Prescott has in his starts. Russell is also in the dead middle of the pack when compared to the SEC which is not great, but still a positive.

RUSHING THREAT: Russell will never be mistaken for a scary running threat. His statistics back this thought up. Russell ran for a whopping -5 yards and two touchdowns last season. Those are not great stats, but honestly Russell hardly tries to run the ball and is much more comfortable in the pocket. Prescott on the other hand is very comfortable tucking the ball. Prescott, in his three starts, has run for a total of 206 yards and has five rushing touchdowns. Prescott in only three games has more rushing touchdowns then any other quarterback in the SEC and has only 30 less total yards then last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny ManzielEDGE: MAJORLY PRESCOTT Prescott ran for 133 of those yards and two of those touchdowns in his only full game against Auburn. From a statistical quarterback standpoint, rushing is the only stat that makes Mississippi State stand out. This is important because Dan Mullen’s offense works best with a running threat at quarterback. The read option out the spread only works when the quarterback can run, that play carved up Auburn’s defense, and the Bulldogs were in position to win late before a defensive break-down.

If Russell starts next Saturday against LSU Mullen will have to decide how long he will stick with the senior if he struggles early, or if he is playing well how many snaps Prescott will take throughout the game. If the team continues to struggle, and the coaching staff begins to start looking towards the future, does sophomore Prescott begin to be phased into the offense more and more? Mullen gets paid millions of dollars to make those decisions. But if he takes a look into the statistics, then he will see as passers they are a bit more even than people really think. Prescott is a much better runner and can command the offense in a way Russell never really could. Of course, Prescott’s statistics are a tad skewed because he has only played one full game and two other games against inferior opponents. However, he has improved every single game. Worst opponents or not, the offense has looked as good as it ever has in Mullen’s tenure at Mississippi State.

All of these statistics are from the website www.cfbstats.com.

You can follow author Blake Morgan on Twitter

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