Perkins Gets Another Golden Opportunity

It's still a special game. So why not special garb once again? LaDarius Perkins certainly approved of the white-on-white uniforms with big gold numbers and logos. "Yeah, I mean, we love the jerseys. Man, they look good! I think we deserve that because the last three years we've beat these guys."

The Mississippi State trick of course will be making it a four-peat in the annual rivalry, something not achieved by Bulldogs for seven decades. How long ago such deeds were done isn't the point for Perkins and this generation. History is their own for the making as State (8-3, 4-3 SEC) visits archrival Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5) for this edition of the Battle for the Golden Egg.

The fourth of Coach Dan Mullen's tenure, too, which is very much part of the build-up for both sides. Since taking over a program which had just been routed by the Rebels, Mullen has shown a golden touch so to speak. For the 2011 home game his team also wore gold-numbered jerseys, though on maroon material that time. It was just another aspect of the ‘Our State' campaign that epitomizes Mullen's brash approach to the rivalry.

Based on previous three tests…so far, so good per Perkins.

"We're trying to make it four years in a row under Coach Mullen," the junior back said. "And I think we have a great chance of that."

Notice the ‘trying' and ‘chance' parts. Then give the veteran credit for recognizing reality beyond the disparate records, or even how the series has trended to now. The Bulldogs have nothing to take for granted in this 2012 matchup against a revived Rebel squad playing for bowl eligibility. Playing for pride, too, with the energy provided by a new coach and new gameplans on both sides of the ball.

State players have already gotten the word before beginning specific preparations. "I know this week is going to be a whole different week," Perkins said. "We're going to practice hard, guys are going to get after it because they know what type of game this is. It's a big-time, in-state rivalry game and we cannot lose to these guys."

If Perkins plays at anything approaching his pace of previous Egg Bowls the odds should be more favorable. In two meetings with Ole Miss, he has piled up yards and points alike whether rushing the ball or running routes. Back in 2010, he stole some of Vick Ballard's thunder with a 98-yard rushing night in Oxford on 13 carries; then blew everyone away running routes with 140 yards on just three catches, two of them for touchdowns tossed by Chris Relf.

Last year's output was more modest with 64 yards rushing and a score, 27 receiving and another touchdown as senior back Ballard got the starring role in an easy 31-3 triumph. Now comes Perkins' turn to be lead Dog in the game that matters most. He tuned-up in fine style last week with an all-around afternoon against Arkansas, rushing for 91 net yards while catching three Tyler Russell throws good for two touchdowns.

For Perkins, who hadn't scored on a pass play all season, it was a return to form of sorts. "Coming in I knew we were going to throw the ball a good bit. And I knew I was going to be a part of the passing game. Tyler had a great game, he threw for I think four touchdowns and had an awesome game. And I'm glad we sent the seniors out with a bang the last home game."

At one point Perkins' participation in the '12 homefield finale was uncertain. A pulled quadriceps in pre-LSU practice sidelined him for the first time since he was redshirting in 2009. Fortunately for State's offense, Perkins recovered in time to help romp the Razorbacks 45-17.

"I didn't even think about it. Because when you think about it you might feel something. But while you're out there you don't think about it. You just run and do whatever you have to do. When you come to the sideline you might try to think about it. But once you get on the field there is no thinking about it, you just go."

Any fears of less than 100% ability were answered when Perkins wheeled out of the backfield for Russell to loft an end zone strike. It looked long but Perkins somehow adjusted to both the ball and tight coverage, caught the shoulder throw and kept a foot inbounds to boot. Perkins' other scoring pass was on the same sort of route, though into the other end zone.

The pair of plays piqued Bulldog interest because this season Perkins has not run the slot-routes or screens that made him so productive in 2010 and '11 passing plans. Pulling it out at this point of the season seems coincidental, but Perkins downplayed that idea.

"I knew it was coming because Tyler is a great quarterback, he can throw the ball. So I knew it was coming. We also ran the ball pretty well, too. We had right at 200 yards rushing, that's great. When you can run the ball and throw the ball I'll take that all day. And the victory."

Perkins did run well Saturday, with more yards than he posted against Alabama and Texas A&M combined. There were some solid up-the-center gains in the first half that replay proved would have broken for much more with just one extra bit of blocking. Instead of getting frustrated, Perkins stuck to the task.

"I remember Coach Mullen telling me just keep pressing, it's going to break, it's going to break, one of you guys is going to break it. And Nick Griffin broke the long run." That was in the fourth quarter as sophomore Griffin turned first down at the Bulldog 40 into touchdown in the Arkansas end zone sixty yards away, on a perfect option pitch from Russell.

"I was really happy for Nick to break that long run and get the touchdown," said Perkins of his sophomore backup. What, no annoyance he wasn't still in the game to get the big break? "Uh-uhh, when I saw him break it I ran towards the end zone and was on the field, they were trying to get us off the field!"

"But I was happy to see Nick run like that because he's been through some up-and-downs as far as injuries and things like that. But I feel he's 100% right now, and he keeps improving every day, every weekend, every week he comes ready to practice and keeps pushing and pushing and pushing and getting better."

Use of the single-back option can make State's ground game better. The Dogs showed it a few times the first two months but are making it a more serious addition to SEC schemes now. With veteran wide receivers able to draw support downfield, or just execute blocks, it makes sense getting a back on the edge and forcing defenders to choose.

"We feel we made the option work this past weekend," said Perkins. "We probably can make it work against these guys, too. I don't know the gameplan right now, we're going to practice and see what is in it. But I'm sure the team is going to be able to execute it, whatever it is, and execute at a high level also."

With a 89.5 yard average through ten games, Perkins is just one big night away from concluding the regular season with the benchmark 1,000 rushing yards. He had 988 combined yards for the first two years, with Ballard getting the big Dog's share; now it is Perkins' shot at joining an elite club of State runners.

"Yeah, I have the chance at that. I give a lot of credit to my offensive line and my fullbacks that block for me. Those guys have been doing a tremendous job all season to get me to this point, almost to a thousand yards. And hopefully I do get it this upcoming week, and all the credit goes to those guys."

The Bulldogs do hope to be spreading post-game credit around Saturday night, as well as admiring the Golden Egg for a fourth-straight celebration. Still history only goes so far and this year's renewal finds State not favored to four-peat. Perkins said the confidence he and teammates show, and their coach proclaims, ought to be a positive thing in one sense.

"Yeah, that's a pretty good mindset that we always beat Ole Miss. But you have to work hard at that. It's good to have that mindset but it's not easy, it's not easy."

"If you have the mindset and you're going to attack practice every day to get better and go in and execute like you should in the game it's going to come easy then."

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