"Vick got his carries, which he's a senior and he's supposed to get his carries. So I don't worry about how many carries I get, as long as we get a victory. That's what I'm focused on." For his part Ballard got 135 yards on 21 rushes with a touchdown as well, and darned-nearly another one at the bitter end of State's loss.
While Ballard is obviously the lead Dog at ball-hauling, Perkins is quite a complementary force on offense as well. For that matter Perkins could carry the load as proven in the Egg and Gator Bowl(s) wins. He piled up 219 receiving yards and two touchdowns on just five catches; while rushing 24 times for 138 more yards.
What boded well for an increased role though was seen at Auburn when the Bulldogs made more frequent use of a true option attack. Used sparingly in 2010, the keep-or-pitch approach was prominent Saturday afternoon. In fact, Perkins' touchdown came on a wide-side sweep with QB Chris Relf drawing the support before pitching to Perkins. It was executed as well as anything Rockey Felker and Walter Packer would have done back in '74 in the old ‘veer' option…which today's spread-option resembles greatly.
Funny thing though, Perkins not only was born long after those classic veer/wishbone days; he has no prior background in any such system. "No, I didn't run any option plays in high school," he said. "But we've been running a lot of option in practice. We'd been working on it a lot during camp and back in spring. When we first started it was kind of hard by the timing, but we've got it down pat now.
"It's all about timing, and speed. And knowing how to make the reads by the quarterback. And you've got a great quarterback like Relf, he knows how to make the reads."
Translated: when the quarterback needs to keep and carry himself. Relf, who only needed to run 13 times at Memphis, did the duty 21 times at Auburn for 106 yards. It was the fourth 100-rushing yard effort by the senior and surely the toughest with all the damage Relf took on second and third--and a least a couple of late—hits. Still for all the ability Perkins and Ballard bring to the gameplan, they know who is the key to everything on the ground.
That means a lot because when you have a quarterback who can run the ball like that it helps the offense," Perkins said. "So it helps the offense's tempo be go-go-go." He wasn't exaggerating; State snapped the ball 97 official times in a frantic offensive afternoon. To get that many hikes in one game normally means lots of passing, but in MSU's case there were 63 rushes against 21 passes, a true 3-to-1 ratio. Pushing the pace led to 531 total yards, albeit one less than they ultimately needed.
"We're just trying to focus on running the ball more. I mean, trying to take all the pressure off the receivers," Perkins said. "We are trying to throw the ball more too, but if the receivers are not clicking we can run the ball; if we're not clicking we can throw the ball."
A proud ground game faces its most serious challenge to date, and maybe all season, on Thursday night against a LSU defense that lives to stuff the run. Are the Dogs intimidated?
Are we kidding? This is a measuring stick to take seriously per Perkins. "LSU has a great defensive line, they've been strong for years. And they're well-coached. If you can run against them you can run against pretty much anybody in the United States."
There is a real side-plot to the matchup, though. Coach Dan Mullen hopes C Quentin Saulsberry is recovered enough from a knee sprain to start Thursday; the knee of LT James Carmon is much more iffy. Either way, Perkins and Co. will probably be running at times behind a revised offensive line with at least one and probably two redshirt freshmen. Against that Tiger d-line, too. Yet even this isn't furrowing Bulldog brows with concern so far, since as Perkins noted backups C Dillon Day and LT Blaine Clausell got up to speed for both of State's fourth-quarter grinding drives at Auburn.
"We know how long those backup guys worked in practice," said Perkins. "They got in there and they did their thing, and they know what is expected of them. So just keep it going."
ALL A SNAP: Something the Bulldogs also want to keep going is the good early-season punting by Baker Swedenburg. The sophomore has averaged forty yards or better the first two games, with six of his kicks reaching the red zone and excellent coverage allowing less than a yard's return on the rest. It is a serious contrast to State's ongoing issues in the kickoff game.
The graduation of reliable Heath Hutchins caused questions about 2011 punting, but one Dog never had any doubts. "Baker is definitely a great punter," said snapper Reed Gordon. "I don't think anybody has anything to worry about. He's up there with the best of them."
For that matter Gordon's own promotion to hiker was an off-season item at State. Odd, true, but then for four years Aaron Feld was just about as perfect as possible snapping for placekicks and punts. Gordon, a former walk-on at tight end, backed him while waiting his turn…much as Swedenburg was doing. In fact, "We've had about a year-and-a-half of working together, with nobody watching us really. So we built a good combination together," said Gordon. Yes, but now people are watching, right?
"Which with all the work and preparation doesn't seem to affect us too bad yet. You know, the last game with nearly 90,000 people I thought it would be a little more nervous. But it really wasn't that bad." Just the opposite, Swedenburg was good and Gordon flawless on all punts and placekicks. The snapper does note an advantage there, too: Swedenburg holds for PATs and field goals.
"Yeah, I like that too! Because I've already got that comfort level with him. So it just makes it a little bit better for me." This kicking camaraderie has certainly made such special situations that much better for everyone, too.
"I've just been lucky enough that Coach Mullen gave me the opportunity to go out there and show what I can do," Gordon said. "Me and Baker did a lot of work in the offseason to get a good one-two combination and it seems to have worked out so far. But it's early in the season so hopefully we can keep it together."
COLOR CODE: It's a fact that snappers do best when noticed least, and Gordon is doing his part. Swedenburg has also managed a reasonably low-profile for punting, too. But a third member of the placekick troika has found a way to standout. PK Derek DePasquale debuted a pair of highlighter-yellow cleats last week that can't help but draw attention.
Especially this week…because the secondary color trim on the bright yeller is, well, it's purple. The shoes would fit in perfectly with a LSU uniform, to be blunt. Gordon isn't sure if DePasquale will stay with this scheme for this game. "I hope not, I know that much!
"But he's been kicking pretty good with them. I know, it's not the right color choice, but I can't say yes or no on that, it's his decision." Gordon said he is no longer distracted by the shoes when he looks backwards prior to snapping, too. "We've been practicing so I've done got used to them. But they are bright, I will say that."
Of course were DePasquale forced to give up the kiddie-kolor kleats, he might respond with something worse; like re-growing the 1980s-style moustache he wore most of spring camp. Asked which would be preferable, Gordon paused.
"Ahhh, that's a tough one. I liked the moustache, I thought it looked pretty good on him."
ACTIVATED: Having missed the season-opener under an unspecified suspension, redshirt freshman Dylan Favre finally made his Mississippi State debut in week-two. But not at the quarterback position, where he stands #3 on the depth chart and in both spring and preseason was a close alternate to #2 Chris Relf.
Instead his first college snap came on special teams. On the punt block/return team, specifically, as Favre lined up at the right end of the interior line. "And he did a good job," Mullen said.
Using a quarterback; much less one standing 5-10, 195 pounds on the block squad would be most odd at most places. But this is a different case. Favre's fearlessness, even outright recklessness, was on display during the redshirt year, so there is no doubting the attitude he brings to something as wide-open as a kicking play. Besides, if not given something, anything to play now that he's served the redshirt time, Favre would likely go nuts stuck on the sideline.
There is an even more practical reason, though. An under-appreciated loss from the 2010 team was Chris Cameron, the placekick holder and kick/cover teams regular. "Chris did a lot for us on special teams last year," Mullen said. "He was kind of able to get us lined up and make a lot of checks and do things.
"Dylan as a quarterback is kind of used to doing that sort of stuff. So we'll probably use him a little bit more and more in special teams as the year goes on. Unless something happens to one of the two other quarterbacks, if one is walking to class and rolls and ankle! But right now he can help us there and fill a role."
And the mind boggles at what Favre might do if turned loose to block a punt. All he needs is the chance…
Mississippi State was to have the final full practice for Thursday's evening game this afternoon, with a routine brush-up session tomorrow and walk-through on morning of the contest.
Also, the University was expected to announce a formal groundbreaking ceremony for the Seal Foundation Football Complex to be held Thursday. Details were to be available in athletic director Scott Stricklin's weekly newsletter today.
And Thursday night there will be a ceremony celebrating the legendary career of Jack Cristil, the radio Voice of the Bulldogs from 1953-2010.