Russell relishes chance to play near hometown

Junior quarterback Seth Russell scrambles for a gain during the Bears' game against SMU Aug. 31, 2014 at McLane Stadium. Photo credit: Lariat File Photo

Baylor quarterback Seth Russell is no longer in the shadows of starting quarterback. Bryce Petty is gone and it’s Russell’s turn now.

The last time Russell started a game (Northwestern State in 2014), he put on a unexpectedly commanding performance by throwing for 438 yards and five touchdowns.

“I wasn’t surprised [by the performance]. The guys around me make me look good,” Russell said. “That’s their job. I’m going to throw the ball up to them, and it’s up to them to make the play.”

Russell is humble in his reponses to the media, but his numbers from last season yield anything but modest performances this season.

Briles said he is confident in Russell at quarterback, but knows the opening game of the season can always create a situation where players are trying to do too much.

“[Russell’s] got some feelings around him that the rest of us haven’t had,” Briles said. “So we have to do a great job as a staff of letting him be himself, but protecting him early in the game because he’s going to be excited, especially with playing [so close to home],” said Briles.

Despite only receiving one official start last season, Russell was called on several times due to injuries to Bryce Petty. Russell made the most of the moment and recorded solid numbers in the multitude of game experience he saw.

The 6-foot-3 junior threw for 804 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception last year. Russell is relaxed heading into the season opener versus SMU.

“The quarterback system has proven itself,” Russell said. “The coaches here are going to put you in the situation to win and [I have to] make the best out of it.”

The Garland native will start for the Bears when they take on SMU on Friday.

Several analysts from around the country have described Baylor’s offensive system as a plug-and-play offense, meaning the system is accessible for many talented players. At times, this observation discredits or diminishes the ability of the quarterback.

Russell knows the Bears have a method that has worked for several years now, but he wouldn’t lean one way or the other on the topic.

“I’m not going to bash it. I’m just glad I’m here, and I’m blessed to be here,” Russell said. “I’m glad the coaches gave me the opportunity, and if you want to say it’s a system then I’m with it. If you want to say it’s the players, then I’m with it.”

Russell is entering the season as the leader of last year’s No. 1 offense in college football. The Bears averaged 48.2 points and 581 yards per game last season as they finished as Big 12 champions for the second consecutive season. That kind of success can add to the pressure a newly appointed quarterback faces.

“I think there’s pressure … and a lot of that is up front on [the offensive line]. If [Russell] can sit back there and be calm, [then we can] make him look good,” senior left tackle Spencer Drango said. “It’s our job. There is pressure, but he’s done a great job of managing it. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, and I expect big things out of him.”

Baylor returns all five starting linemen from a season ago and Briles hopes that will help ease the pressure surrounding Russell. Briles said playing against SMU on the road presents a challenge to a new QB. Russell is doing all he can to prepare, he said.

“They have a whole new coaching staff at SMU, so we don’t necessarily know what they’re going to throw at us,” Russell said. “We always want to watch as much [film] as we can and prepare.”

Baylor’s 2015 season kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday on ESPN.