STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Tyler Russell doesn't get the publicity. He just keeps piling up the passing yards and victories.
The junior quarterback threw for a career-high 291 yards and two touchdowns, including a 9-yard pass to Malcolm Johnson to seal the victory with nine seconds remaining, and No. 19 Mississippi State beat Tennessee 41-31 on Saturday night.
Russell's big night helped carry the Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) to their eighth straight victory, dating back to last season. He completed 23 of 37 passes, including the final feathery toss to Johnson, who corralled the throw with one hand in the back of the end zone.
"We knew we had to play four quarters," Russell said. "We didn't play as well as we wanted to, but we made plays when we had to."
LaDarius Perkins added 101 rushing yards and a touchdown as the Bulldogs continued their best start to a season since 1999.
Mississippi State only needs to beat Middle Tennessee next week to set up a potential showdown with No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 27 in Tuscaloosa.
The soft-spoken Russell outplayed Tennessee's Tyler Bray, who tried to rally the Volunteers late, but ran out of time. Bray completed 13 of 24 passes for 148 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in one of his least productive games as a starter.
Tennessee (3-3, 0-3) lost to Mississippi State for the first time since 1994, snapping a six-game winning streak. The Volunteers have lost all three games to ranked opponents.
The game was billed as a showdown between Bray and Mississippi State's veteran secondary, but the duel was slow to materialize.
Bray was just 6 of 12 passing for 58 yards in the first half, throwing one interception on a desperation pass at the end of the second quarter. The Volunteers seemed content to run the ball most of the time, and had quite a bit of success, with 213 rushing yards for the game.
But Bray got going in the second half, connecting on touchdown passes to Cordarrelle Patterson and Ben Bartholomew. The 10-yard strike to Bartholomew cut Mississippi State's lead to 34-31 with 5:22 left.
It looked like Tennessee might rally for the win. But Russell never gave Bray the chance.
He guided the Bulldogs down the field during the tense final minutes, connecting on several crucial passes, including two to Chad Bumphis for 10 and 23 yards. Bumphis led the Bulldogs with seven catches for 93 yards.