Jul 17, 2013; Hoover, AL, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen talks with the media during the 2013 SEC football media days at the Hyatt Regency. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
There was a lot to digest throughout the course of the day on National Signing Day. Obviously, the biggest news of the day was Tee Sheppard flipping to Ole Miss. However, I thought the most intriguing part of the day came during Dan Mullen’s press conference.
After all the Letters of Intent had been faxed in, Dan Mullen conducted his normal press conference to talk about the recruits for the first time. When the topic of Elijah Staley came up, Mullen said he had a pretty good track record with quarterbacks. He had Staley rated as a 5 star.
So that got me thinking. Just how good at evaluating and developing a quarterback is Mullen? When he made that statement, most would assume he was talking about his work with Alex Smith at Utah and later Tim Tebow at Florida. Those two obviously speak for themselves. I’m more concerned with how he has done developing the quarterbacks here at State. I want to look at each quarterback and see just what they did under Mullen’s tutelage.
2009 Stat Line: 130-221, 58.8 Completion%, 1,444 yards, 4 TDs, 14 INTs.
Tyson Lee was a great competitor. He gave everything he had and left it all out on the field every time. The problem was he just didn’t have a whole lot to work with. He was decent runner, and had a good arm, but that was about it. He was way undersized, and it made him a serious liability in the backfield. The only other options we had at the time were redshirt sophomore Chris Relf, who was extremely raw, and Tyler Russell, who Dan Mullen desperately wanted to keep the redshirt on. So, we were going to sink or swim with Tyson Lee at quarterback. We really didn’t do either. We basically just tread water. Mullen made a commitment to run the ball that year behind Anthony Dixon. That, in and of itself, was enough to appreciate the way Mullen used Lee. He tried to limit the opportunities for Tyson Lee to make mistakes and get what he could out of his offense in the 2009 season. It worked better than most thought it would. On a side note, I’m still waiting for Tyson Lee to pitch the ball to Anthony Dixon on the final play of our game against LSU.
Mullen’s Grade for Developing Lee: C+, the biggest knock here is the interceptions. Mullen wanted to rely on the running game as much as possible, but he still couldn’t get Lee to stop throwing interceptions. As a result, it cost us a few games.
2009 – 2011 Stat Line: Passing (267-460, 58% Completion Percentage, 3,297 Yards, 28 TDs, 18 INTs) Rushing (400 Carries, 1,575 Yards, 9 TDs)
Let’s just be real honest here. Chris Relf should not have been able to put up those types of numbers. Never. He was as raw of a quarterback as they came, but he was a big guy that could dish out as much punishment as he received. He was a load, and Mullen knew exactly how to use him. He was never going to be a great passer, and the final three games of 2010 against poor defenses gave Bulldog fans a false sense of reality about just how much he had developed as a passer. What Relf lacked in passing ability, he made up for with his ability to run the ball. I will never forget the Florida game from 2010, Mullen decided that his defense was going to be able to hold the Gators to a low point total, so in the second half he just decided to run the ball down the Gators’ throat. I’m not 100% certain, but I don’t think the Bulldogs threw the ball ONE TIME in the second half of that game.
Mullen’s grade for developing Relf: A-, He would have gotten an A+, but Relf was never able to regain the confidence he once had after the Auburn game in 2011. I didn’t think it was worthy of knocking him further down than that, simply because Relf was far more productive than he ever should have been.
Career Stats: 410-699, 58.7 Completion Percentage, 5,441 Yards, 42 TDs, 23 INTs
Tyler Russell is the most prolific passer in school history, and personally, one of my favorite Bulldogs of all time. He set almost every passing record that Mississippi State has in right around two seasons worth of starts. Despite all of that, the offense never seemed to work as well as it should with Russell as the quarterback. Mullen either didn’t want to, or couldn’t figure out how to tweak the offense enough to fit the skills of Tyler Russell. It’s not that unbelievable, most coaches don’t like to stray from their bread and butter. It was just frustrating for a lot of fans to see the offense not be as productive as we thought it was capable with a very talented quarterback. Every time he ran an option, I felt like throwing something.
Mullen’s grade for developing Russell: B-, Russell had the talent and skill set to get drafted by an NFL team, and he still might, but it is definitely a long shot. Hindsight being 20/20, Russell just wasn’t a good fit and trying to squeeze him into this offense was like mixing oil and water. It just wasn’t going to happen.
Career Stat Line: Passing (174-296, 58.8% Completion Percentage, 2,134 Yards, 14 TDs, 7 INTs) Rushing (166 Carries, 947 Yards, 17 TDs)
Dak Prescott is what Dan Mullen wants in a quarterback. He comes from the same mold of quarterback as Tim Tebow and Cam Newton. He is a good passer and a great runner. He led the team in both rushing and passing this season, and he was the unquestioned emotional leader throughout the season. You don’t have to look any further than the Ole Miss game to see how much more effective the offense was with Prescott in as opposed to the other two quarterbacks. The team had been completely stagnant the first three quarters, but it immediately sprung to life once Prescott stepped in despite having missed almost a month of game action. He topped that off with one of the most impressive bowl performances in the history of the school.
Mullen’s grade for developing Prescott: Incomplete. Obviously, we still don’t know what Prescott will do as a whole career as our quarterback, but we do see the potential. Mullen has not had an opportunity to work with Prescott in the off-season as the firmly planted starter. He gets that opportunity this year. With Dark Horse Heisman talk, and many State fans, as well as others, thinking that this could be the year Mississippi State has the opportunity to sneak up and surprise some people. 2014 will play a significant role in determining just how effective Mullen is at developing quarterbacks.
Staley, I believe, will be in good hands. I do think Mullen made a very accurate statement about his ability to develop and evaluate quarterbacks, but it only applies to dual threat quarterbacks. That isn’t a knock on him. If you wanted to see Saban’s offense run through a mobile quarterback, I don’t think it would be very pretty. This is just Mullen’s specialty. Staley may have been a 3 star quarterback as a recruit, but it’s possible that he could be a 5 star by the time he leaves.