STILLWATER — The first test for a revamped Oklahoma State defense will include facing a future NFL quarterback.
At least, that's what coach Mike Gundy believes Mississippi State's Tyler Russell is.
“I said the same thing about the guy at Arizona last year,” Gundy said, referring to Matt Scott, who passed for 320 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 55 yards and a score in a win against the Cowboys last season and is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars. “I think this guy's an NFL quarterback.
“You need to be ready to play. Anytime that you're at this level and you compete against a team that has a potential NFL quarterback, it's always a challenge.”
Russell brings great size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), a strong arm and 17 career starts into Saturday's season opener at Reliant Stadium in Houston. He already owns 11 single-season school records and is the school's all-time leader in passing efficiency (136.38). His total of 37 career touchdown passes is one away from a school record. Last season, he completed 58.6 percent of his throws for 2,897 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
“He's performed,” OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said, also noting the quality defenses Russell consistently faces in the SEC. “He's moved the ball up and down the field on people … just his experience to know he can make the throws and he's not going to get flustered, that's a concern.”
Russell will need for new receiving targets to quickly emerge after the Bulldogs lost their top three pass-catchers from last season. But he's got a big offensive line to work behind, plus a 1,000-yard rusher in LaDarius Perkins to hand the ball to.
Russell also knows he still has room to grow as he enters his second season as the full-time starter. At SEC Media Days in July, he took a large bulk of the blame for the Bulldogs' 1-5 slide to end the season. That included a poor performance in the Gator Bowl, where he completed just 12 of his 28 passes for 106 yards and four interceptions.
“I felt like the last two games, if I play well, we win those games,” Russell said. “It just motivated me and pushed me. That's the only motivation I needed. I knew the things that I wanted to accomplish my senior year, the things that I needed to do better, and I took some good things that I did last year.
“Just to have an opportunity to kind of erase what I did last year and start fresh and start new, that's mainly what we're looking for.”