Over the next several weeks here on the HailState Beat, we’ll be running a new football-related series each week, a series of series, if you will. We finish this week with The Hinges: counting down the top five people, places or things that Mississippi State’s season will hinge on.
No. 4 in The Hinges: Les Koenning or Dan Mullen
In a fitting move for the content of this post, I’m taking a page out of Dan Mullen’s book and listing this hinge as “OR.” You’ve seen it the depth chart, and now it’s happening to the playcallers.
Les Koenning – OR – Dan Mullen will be of vital importance to MSU this fall. Obviously, Mullen is important as the head coach. But my point here is how the offense will be run, thus the inclusion of Koenning the offensive coordinator. It’s all about who is calling the plays.
After two years and change of the dual-threat Chris Relf as the quarterback, we’ve seen a lot of the same things. Now, stop me if you’ve heard this before, Tyler Russell is a completely different quarterback, and it’s his offense from here on out.
In an offense based around Relf’s strengths, the offensive coaches were occasionally questioned in the way they used Russell when he entered the game. Whether it was to keep their QBs from having to learn too many plays or outsiders were just, well, wrong, many got the impression the offense did not necessarily suit Russell’s abilities.
Presumably, the offense will change this year, in a direction more tailored to Russell’s strengths and weaknesses. Mullen even said at SEC Media Days that they may break out as much as 30 percent of the playbook that we haven’t seen before at MSU.
Taking Mullen at his word, I’m left with two questions.
- Will Russell be the only quarterback?
Last season, you never knew which of MSU’s three quarterbacks were going to come on the field for any given drive or even play. It kept defensive coordinators on their toes having to prepare for not just Relf, but Russell and freshman Dylan Favre, as well. The coaches used all kind of tricks with their QBs, including a few designed tricks with Favre that had mixed results. One particular drive stands out in my memory when Russell drove the team down the field, and then Relf took over in the red zone.
That was all well and good last year, and it was likely needed for a starter – Relf – who was limited in what he could do passing the ball. But that ought not be the case for Russell this fall. While Relf never seemed upset about the frequent changes, Russell is someone who needs to stay in the game. The whole game.
Just like a hair band drummer, a three-point shooter or a Friday night pitcher, Russell is a passing quarterback who needs to get into a rhythm. That’s not easy to do if he’s regularly being pulled and never knows how long he’ll be on the field.
2. Will Russell get to call some of his own shots on the field?
Again, this goes back to the confidence Russell has as a quarterback. I’m not saying Russell has a problem with authority, because that’s certainly not the case, but he has a strong belief in himself and – like most successful quarterbacks – thinks he knows what is best in many situations. He’ll take directions from Mullen and Koenning, of course, but Russell is not the type to just blindly agree. If Mullen says zig and Russell thinks they should zag, he won’t keep it to himself.
This quote by Mullen in my story on Russell yesterday may answer some of that question.
“There’s a great deal of trust between him and our coaching staff,” Mullen said “He knows we’re going to turn the keys over to him, put it on his shoulders, let him go, give him control of the offense, have a lot of input in decision making, give him a lot of freedom in play-calling at the line of scrimmage, to put a lot on him that way that there is that trust in him. I give him credit because he’s developed himself to be ready to be in that role right now.”
Now, it’s one thing to say it, but it will be another for the offensive coaches to relinquish their control to a junior in college when the Dawgs are driving against Auburn on September 8.
Tyler Russell is in line to have a big season no matter what happens. But for him to have the best year he can, Mullen and Koenning will have to let Russell be Russell, give him everything he needs to succeed and let him take over.
The bird is out of the nest, now they just have to let him fly.