One year ago against the Kentucky Wildcats, Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell was splitting time with Chris Relf.
Russell performed well in relief of Relf by having one of his best games of the season. He had nine completions out of 12 attempts for 172 yards and one touchdown.
It has been a little more than a year since the Bulldogs met the Wildcats on that late October day, but Russell, now a junior, has continued to mature and grow as a signal caller.
Russell has secured his standing as the No. 1 quarterback for the MSU offense this season and has led the team to a 4-0 start and top 20 national ranking.
Les Koenning, the offensive coordinator of the Bulldogs, has been pleased with the way Russell has handled himself through four games.
The key in Koenning's mind to keep the offense in a good flow is to have the quarterback position and the offensive line consistent.
MSU junior running back LaDarius Perkins was part of the same recruiting class as Russell and knew the Meridian native was capable of being a good quarterback.
Perkins has watched Russell take it to another level this season.
"We're real confident in Tyler and he's real confident in himself," Perkins said. "He's gotten a whole lot better from last year. We all believe in him. We know he can get the job done and we're just trying to keep winning games."
Russell has thrown eight touchdown passes and completed 56 percent (59-of-106) of his pass attempts for 822 yards. He is on pace to reach the school-record yardage total of Dave Marler of 2,422 yards in 1978.
Wide receivers Chris Smith and Chad Bumphis have been the most used players by Russell with 25 combined catches, but he has found a way to share the football among several players.
"Tyler has great vision and sees the whole field," said Perkins, who has caught four passes this season. "He finds the open guy always."
On Saturday, Russell returns to Lexington, Ky., where he experienced success during a 28-16 win for the Bulldogs.
Koenning said Russell was a nice compliment to Relf last season and may have caught the Wildcats off guard.
He doesn't think that will be the case and knows Kentucky will have a game plan to confuse Russell.
"Chris leveled a lot of things out with the running game," Koenning said. "(Russell) came in and did a really good job. I'm sure they are aware of Tyler and will prepare for Tyler."
If MSU does stretch its winning streak to four games in the series, expect Russell to be one of the main reasons in making that happen.
Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.
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