Quarterback Tyler Russell knows what will decide the Southeastern Conference showdown between his No. 13 Mississippi State Bulldogs and the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday night in Starkville, Miss.
It’s not a complicated formula.
‘‘It’s going to come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes,’’ Russell said.
Sounds simple enough. But Russell and Alabama’s AJ McCarron are two of the nation’s most efficient — and mistake-free — quarterbacks.
And the two are remarkably similar.
Both look the part of a big-time college quarterback, standing about 6 feet 4 inches and more than 200 pounds. They’re also productive, accurate, and have the awareness to know when to throw the ball away or take a sack.
Russell has completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 1,573 yards, 15 touchdowns, and one interception. McCarron is completing 68.8 percent of his throws for 1,476 yards, 16 touchdowns, and no interceptions.
‘‘I feel like we've done a good job leading our teams,’’ Russell said. ‘‘We’re both 7-0, and that’s all you can ask, for the quarterback to go out and lead the team.’’
Russell’s emergence as one of the Southeastern Conference’s elite quarterbacks has been one major reason the Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0) are still fighting for a West Division title. The junior played part time the past two seasons before stepping into the starter’s role this fall.
But he hasn’t seen anything like Alabama’s defense so far this season. The Tide are giving up just 195.6 yards per game and 8.3 points per game, which lead the SEC by a wide margin.
McCarron is more known than Russell after helping the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) to a national championship last season. But he was viewed as more of a game manager than a game changer during most of those victories.
That’s not the case anymore. The junior is putting up numbers that have vaulted him into Heisman consideration.
‘‘You don’t always force people into mistakes,’’ Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. ‘‘They make mistakes. And [McCarron] does a good job of not doing it.”
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In another key SEC matchup, third-ranked Florida and No. 12 Georgia, the top teams in the East Division, square off in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Gators (7-0, 6-0) have a big advantage on special teams. Sophomore Kyle Christy leads the nation with a 47.9-yard punting average, and senior kicker Caleb Sturgis is 12 of 14 on field goals, with 21 of his 43 kickoffs resulting in touchbacks.