Sept 22, 2012; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott (15) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the game against the South Alabama Jaguars at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Mullen Has Brought Respectability to the Quarterback Position in Starkville

It’s no secret that when talking about Mississippi State football, throughout history – when you say “quarterback”, it’s a sore subject.

The running joke around the SEC, is that Starkville is the place quarterbacks go to disappear. When thinking about good quarterbacks throughout time in Starkville, you can probably rattle off the names Taite, Robinson, Bond, Jordan, Madkin, Russell; after that it gets tricky.

Sure, throwing the football wasn’t as common 30-years ago as it is today but, it’s important to look back and see how far State has come under Dan Mullen, as he has brought respectability to the quarterback position in Starkville.

Before Dan Mullen’s arrival in Starkville back in 2009, Mississippi State did a poor job of coaching and evaluating quarterback talent, for the most part.  That’s not a knock on the guys that have come through the program as people but, the numbers as far as quarterbacking go – it’s astounding.

Prior to 2010 football season in Starkville, the Bulldogs went 14-straight years where their quarterbacks had a negative touchdown – to interception ratio or TD/INT ratio, (threw more interceptions than touchdowns in a season).

Chris Relf and Tyler Russell combined for 18-passing touchdowns and 12-interceptions in 2010 to give the Bulldogs their first year of a positive TD/INT ratio, since Derek Taite and Matt Wyatt did it back in 1996.

The Bulldogs have had now four straight years of positive TD/INT ratio.

Again, much of this can be attributed to coaching and the other to recruiting, but it all comes back to what Mullen brings to the table, as a quarterbacks coach.

When looking at this statistically, we will go back as far as the year 2000, simply because recruiting rankings beyond that are hard to find.

From 2000 to 2008, Mississippi State signed 15-quarterbacks with an average star rating of 2.4 per Scout.com.

Year Player Star Rating
2000 Kevin Fant 4
2002 Brett Morgan 2
2002 Aries Nelson 3
2002 Ken Topps 3
2003 Justin Tyler Not Rated
2003 Omarr Conner 4
2004 Michael Henig Not Rated
2005 Tray Rutland 2
2005 Ty Evans 2
2005 Adron Chambers 2
2007 Josh Riddell 4
2007 Wesley Carroll 2
2007 Zach Smith 2
2007 Chris Relf 2
2007 Tyson Lee 4

 

The following is the results of these quarterbacks – collectively.

Seventy-nine passing touchdowns, 116 interceptions and 14,718 passing yards.

Obviously the results are nowhere near where you would want them to be – however, the Bulldogs did recruit four, 4-star players in that time; Kevin Fant being the most recognizable of the group.  A top-20 quarterback in the country at the time, coming out of Moss Point high school, Fant had a rocket arm but, accuracy issues and playing behind a porous offensive line – Fant never lived up to the hype during his time at State.

Omarr Conner went back and forth between playing quarterback and wide-out for Sylvester Croom and Josh Riddell as well as Tyson Lee hit their ceilings in junior college.

When Dan Mullen was hired, he was veered as a quarterback guru, having coached the likes of Tim Tebow, Alex Smith and others.  Many felt he could change the landscape in Starkville – when talking about quarterbacks.

While the Bulldogs have not landed that coveted 5-star quarterback, they have improved their recruiting at the position, had better coaching at the position and have done a great job of playing to their quarterbacks strengths.

The Bulldogs, while not making huge strides in the “star” department, have upgraded their quarterback recruiting since Mullen’s arrival.

Year Player Star Rating
2009 Tyler Russell 4
2010 Dylan Farve 2
2011 Dak Prescott 3
2013 Damien Williams 3
2014 Nick Fitzgerald 3
2014 Elijah Staley 3

 

Conversely, the Bulldogs production at the position has sky-rocketed since 2009.

Ninety-two passing touchdowns, 65-interceptions and 12,784 passing yards.

When comparing the two time spans, the Bulldogs have thrown 13 more touchdowns and 51 fewer interceptions during the Mullen era. Keep in mind, that’s also in two fewer years than the previous era.

The Bulldogs have also had almost the same yardage production, falling short by only 1,934 passing yards.

When breaking down the numbers even further, prior to Mullen’s arrival, the Bulldogs averaged 11-pasing touchdowns and 17-interceptions over a seven year period, as well as 2,100 passing yards in a season.

Since Mullen’s arrival, the Bulldogs have averaged 18-passing touchdowns and 13-interceptions – as well as 2,557 passing yards.

Nov 16, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen looks up a play for quarterback Tyler Russell (17) against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second quarter at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

That’s a 7-touchdown swing to the good and a reduction of 4-interceptions per year – comparing the two eras.  The Bulldogs have also increased their yardage production by 454-yards per year.

At first glance, people instantly want to point to Mullen and his quarterbacks being run first players.  While it is true his quarterbacks make a living on the ground –their ability to be able to be effective in the passing game is what makes their game flourish.

If you look at the Bulldogs play-call chart over the last five years, their run calls versus pass calls are almost even.

However, if you are not throwing the ball effectively, it would never keep the defense honest enough to be effective on the ground, as most Mullen quarterbacks are.

Mullen and his staff have done an outstanding job coaching up their quarterbacks.  If you don’t believe it, just remember Chris Relf was a two-star player with offers from only Mississippi State and SWAC schools coming out of high school.  Relf also came from a school that primarily ran the football.  What Mullen was able to do with him, should not go unnoticed.

Mullen also has criteria he follows when recruiting his quarterbacks.  He wants them to obviously be able to throw the football but, he wants smart, sharp-cerebral quarterbacks and winners.  It is to be noted also that most every quarterback that has come to State under Mullen, has won a state championship in high school.

There’s no doubt the Bulldogs have come a long way in the quarterback department over the years.  Once a fan base that always cheered for the back up, in hopes of great quarterback play, the Bulldogs will now enter the 2014 season with a Heisman Trophy hopeful in Dak Prescott.

My how things have changed in Starkville – the rest of the SEC can laugh at State’s quarterback play no more.

There’s some serious signal calling going on in Bulldog country these days.  You can thank Dan Mullen for that – he is doing what he was hired to do back in 2009. Produce a winner and upgrade play at quarterback.  I’d say he has more than delivered.  Who would’ve ever thought you would hear the word Heisman and Mississippi State quarterback intermingled? Lord knows I sure didn’t.

 

Tags: Mississippi State Bulldogs

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