Last Saturday evening against Alabama, Russell came away from an interception return play with a shoulder apparently separated, though no MSU official has either called it that exactly or given a degree. He played one more series before sidelining himself.
Sophomore Prescott suffered a nerve injury of also-unspecified severity late in the Texas A&M game when he took a hit to and landed hard on his left side. Prescott took one more snap before excusing himself with the left arm limp. He did not play at all against Alabama.
Semantics matter when Mississippi State discusses injuries and today was no different. Asked if the pair were cleared for practice at the moment, "They're both limited in practice right now," Mullen said. "But a lot of that is us limiting them, to get their health right for the weekend."
Mullen explained, this is because if either take significant snaps one day they are sore the next; thus unable to participate very much at all. So at this mid-week point State isn't risking too much work. "It's how much do we want them to do today?" Mullen said. "And our biggest goal is to get them healthy for Saturday."
The head coach did suggest though that the potential for both, or either, playing at War Memorial Stadium is real. As for starting, "We have to see who is healthiest. I'll know game time, probably right after warm-ups."
Of course there is a healthy quarterback available. True freshman Damian Williams replaced Russell for three series and performed better, his coach said, than 0-of-5 passing stats and no gained first downs against Alabama indicate. Williams had not played since September 21, and at that in just two non-conference games though he did take care of most of the second half against Alcorn State back on September 7.
"Damian came in as a hard worker, a very intelligent young man. The opportunity he's had in training camp to learn the system and being around veteran guys helped." The learning was accelerated too when Russell was hurt so early and then repeatedly, since he was the only #2 quarterback for much of the season.
"And he's seen the two (veterans) going into games. He's gotten reps, gotten prepared," Mullen said. "For us, he's comfortable in the whole offense." Which doesn't mean Williams will be asked or expected to run the entire offense, Mullen did agree. "For us, we'll try to protect him a little bit in how much he has to check and take some of that pressure off." Presumably meaning more such responsibility falls on the sideline staff, his center Dillon Day, and just for the rest of the offense to make plays.
Yet if Williams is the starter and the only available scholarship quarterback, there is a real burden with post-season eligibility in the Bulldog balance. And, at a venue where no State squad has ever won a football game.
"It's a big game for us," Mullen said. "We're kind of back in a corner having to win this game to keep our chances of going to a fourth-straight bowl game alive."
State's practice wraps-up around 6:30 this afternoon.