BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After a first half to forget, quarterback Tyler Russell came to the rescue for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Russell sparked the Bulldog offense in the second half, leading them to a 21-3 win over UAB on Saturday.
MSU's offense couldn't seem to get into a rhythm in the first half as it had only 118 yards of total offense, but with Russell under center the Bulldogs had 298 total offensive yards.
Russell replaced Chris Relf at quarterback at the start of the second half and came out slinging the ball around.
On his first two plays, Russell completed two passes and the entire energy of the offense went up a notch.
Starting quarterback Relf struggled in the first half completing only six passes for 46 yards, so MSU head coach Dan Mullen decided to make the change.
"It wasn't that Chris was playing poorly, I just felt we needed a spark," said Mullen. "I guess putting Tyler in was the best thing I could do to try to create a spark. He came in and played exceptionally well and he had a lot of energy and created the spark for the team."
With a change at quarterback halfway through the game, it would be easy for Relf to hang his head, but that wasn't the case and he doesn't see any controversy between the two.
"We called the quarterbacks in and said we're going with Tyler in the second half, and in front of the team before we took the field, Relf was leading the team and getting them fired up for the second half," said Mullen. "I don't see any issues with us at that position. We've just have to make sure we're executing and if we get someone that's hot, we are going with them."
With Relf being a leader of the team, what he did before the second half to get his teammates going shouldn't be a surprise even with Russell taking over the reigns.
"I was trying to get the team going," said Relf. "Came out in the second half and played Tyler and he gave a spark to the offense and got the win."
Russell definitely had the hot hand and generated the "spark" Mullen wanted. Russell's "spark" turned into fire on his second drive when he muscled a throw while being hit to Marcus Green for a touchdown from 18 yards out. The touchdown gave MSU its first lead of the game and it held that 7-3 lead at the end of the third quarter. However,10 seconds into the fourth quarter, Russell connected with Chad Bumphis for a 57-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-3. His third and final touchdown came later in the fourth quarter when he hit Malcolm Johnson from 20 yard out.
"We had to get something going and I just had to pull it off," said Russell. "I prepared, and I just had to go out there and let it show on the field."
UAB head coach Neil Callaway didn't see anything from Russell he didn't expect but felt his defense had some miscues to help Russell be successful.
"I think (changing quarterbacks) helped them, but at the same time, we made mistakes that we can't afford to make," said Callaway. "They threw the ball more in the second half. He (Russell) executed the passing game a lot better, but we knew that coming in."
Even though Russell is more of a pocket passer than Relf, he still had a couple of runs for positive yardage and even though he's seen time in some games this season, he was happy to get another shot to shine.
"It's been rough sitting over there watching, but I prepare myself to play every week," said Russell. "They really don't tell us who's going to go in and that showed today. One thing I pride myself on is being prepared because you never know when your chance is going to come."
With Russell having success many believe there could be a controversy arising in Starkville, but Mullen isn't think much about that right now.
"I'm going to enjoy this win (Saturday night) and we'll worry about that starting (today)," said Mullen. "Chris has won a lot of football games for us. He came out and didn't turn the ball over, he managed so we'll decide (the starter) next week in practice."
The Russell led 21-3 win gets the Bulldogs back to .500 (3-3) overall this season but it was not an easy task.
"We pulled out a great win against a tough team that played us tough last year," said Mullen. "UAB has a great plan against us, and they are a well-coached football team. We are pretty pleased with how our guys battled."
The non-conference win gives MSU some momentum as it returns to Starkville to host Southeastern Conference foe South Carolina next Saturday.