STARKVILLE — STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Quarterback Tyler Russell and receiver Chad Bumphis have given Mississippi State a passing offense never seen before in program history.
The Bulldogs have earned a ground-bound reputation over the years — producing NFL-quality backs like Anthony Dixon and Vick Ballard — but haven't been particularly effective throwing the football. That's changed this season, and it's helped push the Bulldogs into the upper half of the Southeastern Conference.
Now No. 25 Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3 SEC) will try to use its newfound passing prowess to beat rival Mississippi (5-6, 2-5) in the Egg Bowl for a fourth straight season, something that hasn't happened for the Bulldogs since the 1940s.
Russell may already be one of the most prolific passers in school history, but the junior from Meridian, Miss., has never started against the Rebels.
"It will be the first time I actually get to play these guys for real so it's going to be fun," Russell said. "They are going to come after us, but we are going to work really hard this week in practice."
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Russell has been steady all season, completing 60.4 percent of his passes for 2,523 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions. He already holds the school's single-season records for passing yards, touchdowns, completions (201) and 200-yard games (7).
And he had arguably his best game last week against Arkansas, completing 19 of 32 passes for 274 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in the 45-14 win. That performance earned him the SEC's offensive player of the week award.
In an era of dual-threat quarterbacks, Russell is a pure pocket passer who only runs when it's absolutely necessary. But he's had solid protection from his offensive line all season, and isn't afraid to take a hit if it means waiting until the last second to deliver an accurate pass.
"It just goes back to watching film and knowing what the defense is trying to do me and the offense," Russell said. "They might do one blitz and you see it one time all day, you have to execute it, score a touchdown and they won't do it again."
Bumphis has been Russell's favorite target this fall, catching 49 passes for 758 yards and an SEC-leading 10 touchdowns. It's been a rewarding season for the 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior, who has blossomed into the star that many expected when he arrived on campus four seasons ago.
Bumphis had good moments during his first three seasons, but struggled to make a consistent impact in an offense that was so heavy on run plays. But with Russell moving into the full-time starter's role this season, there have been plenty of opportunities for Bumphis and he's taken advantage.
He caught six passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns against Arkansas, helping Mississippi State break a three-game losing streak and push back into the national rankings.
"We want to be successful and do what we can to help the offense," Bumphis said. "If it's throwing the ball, we're going to be there to make the plays and try to execute."
Now the senior would like to leave Mississippi State knowing he's never lost to the Rebels.
Bumphis was part of Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen's first recruiting class at Mississippi State — a group that's heavy on home-grown talent.
"It'd be tremendous," Mullen said. "To them it means everything. That's a pretty special deal. You look at all the kids, and we drew a lot of our seniors from the state of Mississippi, born and raised here, probably going to live here. You look back and just say, like anybody, well when I played, we went 4-0. That's something that's pretty impressive that you have to say for the rest of your life, and I know they take a lot of pride in that."
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