The junior tailback definitely did that, thrice. He scored Mississippi State's go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter on a two-yard dive through the middle; added another on a half-yard blast that just did break the plane before contact; and came back with the third on the next series by rumbling seven hard yards for a 45-14 margin.
In the process Ballard further raised his record-book profile. In the eleven regular-season contests the junior transfer had posted 17 touchdowns, 16 of them via rushes which tied him for the season mark with MSU legend Jackie Parker. The 17-total broke Parker's overall mark set in 1952…or the year before Jack Cristil began broadcasting Bulldog football.
At EverBank Field, it was Ballard's opportunity to make some more marks. Now he not only has the rushing and overall season touchdown records with 20, but his 120 points ties him with—yes—Parker's total that back in '52 led the nation.
Not that Ballard was trying to take too much credit for any personal performances. "Really just every aspect of our offense was clicking today. I think we dominated on the ground and in the air so I think we did a good job."
A great job, actually. The 52 points hung on a stunned Wolverine defense were the most by MSU since routing Jacksonville State with 51 in 2002. A Bulldog offense had not lit up a scoreboard against a Division I foe since 1994 when Tulane was hit for 66 points. And all but the three points and seven PATs provided by kicker Derek DePasquale, on his 42-yard field goal in the first period, were accounted for on offensive plays from scrimmage.
"We got it going and kept pounding and kept pounding and kept scoring," said LaDarius Perkins, who shared the serious tailback duties today. Perkins finished with 40 rushing yards on nine carries compared to Ballard's 76 yards on 20 totes. But Perkins did come out ahead in the air game with 79 yards on two catches; one big grab going for 81 yards. Ballard settled for 11 yards on two receptions.
Perkins' production was no surprise. Earlier in the year when Ballard couldn't go against UAB, the younger tailback stepped in for 131 yards and a touchdown. And of course in the Egg Bowl victory it was Ballard's catches out of the backfield for two scores and 140 yards that broke the rivalry game open. For that matter, in the Gator Bowl at times Perkins looked as if he was playing Ballard's style, crashing between the tackles instead of skittering to and through corners.
"I was trying to make some plays," he said. "It's hard to replace Vick so I tried to make plays and do what I can."
None looked bigger, or for that matter were longer, than his 81-yard grab and go that began as a simple dump-off flip as the pocket shrunk around quarterback Chris Relf. That Perkins was even out in the open was an adjustment during the course of the called downfield strike.
"I mean, it was really designed for protection," Perkins explained. "The tackle (Addison Lawrence) picked up my guy so I just leaked-out, and tried to make a few people miss and make a big play." Did he ever, if not quite as big as it looked. He was dragged down from behind at the seven-yard line. "Just a little winded, that's all!" smiled Perkins. "I'm not mad about it."
A bunch of Wolverines certainly was frustrated by the third-quarter play, which set up Ballard's final touchdown in fact. Well, with the exception of Ray Vinopal. The Michigan safety was in condition to feel nothing but numbed after being wiped-out around midfield when Bulldog receiver Brandon Heavens blind-sided him away from Perkins' path. "That was a massive block!" Perkins said.
Ballard saw it as well from his own on-field angle. "I was going to try go block him myself, but I saw Brandon come up and I just kept running. When they told me it was Brandon at first I didn't believe it, until I saw the replay!" Ballard had a point given that it was a 170-or-so pound Heavens laying out a 193-pound safety.
Yet the play epitomized how Mississippi State took control of the Gator Bowl. For all the passing yards, it was the sheer Bulldog physicality that the Big Ten opponent could not handle. All three of Ballard's touchdowns required him running through, and over, Wolverines unable to withstand the contact. Relf bulled for key yards himself, as expected. And defensively…after putting up a pair of first-quarter touchdowns there was nothing more Michigan could muster.
The Dog defense absolutely shut down their ground game for the last three periods with just 37 yards netted, and kept the passing under control. After going 7-of-7 for 98 yards in the opening period UM's Denard Robinson went 20-of-34 the rest of the way for 156 yards.
"The defense kept us in the game at first and we just exploded," said Perkins. "We really exploded and the defense held them down the whole game." It was an explosion that Michigan insiders were not too surprised about given how porous the Wolverine defense has been this season. Still Mississippi State was rather impressed with their ultimate production of points and 485 yards.
"I knew we had a good chance but coming into a game I don't like to underestimate defenses," Ballard said. "We still had to do our job, and it worked out for us." Most obviously for Relf with his 281-yard, three-touchdown pass day which won the quarterback Gator Bowl Most Valuable Player honors.
"Oh, Relf was on the money all day today," Perkins said. "He was making plays with his feet and making plays with his arm, too. He read the coverages well and he just did all-around good things today. Any game can be Chris' game, he's a great player and you never know. He got the MVP but I kind of expected that."
He, and his teammates, also expect even bigger things to come. The first day of 2011 was not just a wonderful way to conclude one season. It was the start of the New Year for the next Bulldog team. "This was a great win for us. Gator Bowl champions, we end our season on a good note," said Perkins, already looking ahead himself.
"We're still young, everybody is still young. And we've got players who haven't even played yet, we're going to be real good in 2011. Look out for us."