Perkins Regaining His Stride In Mid-Season

His own situation didn't get nearly as much attention as did another, higher-profile player in the Bulldog backfield. But last Saturday was a return to form as well for LaDarius Perkins. "I felt I was about 95% when gametime started. And after it I was feeling pretty good, too."

A ten-tote evening for Perkins really was pretty good, as the senior running back has been battling a bum ankle since opening day. A previous attempt to fully-return was aborted when Perkins had to limp off Scott Field midway through the rout of Troy, after just five runs and 23 yards.

The open date obviously did this Bulldog good. Perkins doubled his touches against Louisiana State and produced a season-high 81 yards. The bulk of his production came on just two runs, including a first-offensive-snap gain of 28 yards.

"It felt good the first series, I got a pretty long run. I started feeling well, the offense was clicking." Things kept clicking on into the third quarter too, as Perkins topped that tote with a 32-yard burst. Unfortunately for Mississippi State the Tigers clicked later and lot-er with a blowout fourth quarter to ruin an upset Bulldog bid.

"I just we would have made more plays on offense so we could have come out with a victory," Perkins said. "As y'all saw those guys didn't miss any plays, they made all the big plays they needed to make." By the same token, the Bulldog offense came away encouraged with their increasing potential to make all sorts of plays. No less than 19 snaps produced gains of ten or more yards, with another called-back on penalty. For the five games State has 79 offensive plays of double-digit results, or one snap out of every five.

There's no secret to such success so-far, says Perkins. "It starts out here at practice. We had a great week all week at practice and we were executing our plays like we should. And we knew coming in we had to make a lot of big plays." It's just that the top-ten Tigers made more, and at the right times.

"Just in the second half I felt we didn't make as many plays as we needed to win the game," Perkins said. "But all you can do is get better this week coming up so we can get a victory."

Which is not something Mississippi State (2-3, 0-2 SEC) is taking for granted with Bowling Green (5-1, 3-0 MAC) coming to town for a 6:38 kickoff on Scott Field. The Eagles are playing both for bowl eligibility as well as a program-defining opportunity on this road trip. Nobody in either uniform was around when last Bowling Green defeated a SEC squad, beating Kentucky back in 1985. Certainly no Bulldog intends ending the opponent's wait, either.

Bowling Green features their own offensive weapons, including a two-quarterback scheme with sophomore Matt Johnson now running—or passing at a 65% rate—things. Yet senior backup Matt Schilz has started 36 games and thrown 50 touchdowns of his own. The Eagles can also match a speed runner, freshman Ronnie Moore, with 260-pound mauler William Houston.

Naturally Perkins has studied the other side of the Eagle squad much more. "We watched the film today and their defense is pretty sound." BGSU has allowed just seven rushing touchdowns so far, and the same total in the air. Their red-zone defense has been outstanding with just eight touchdowns in 17 chances…and not a single made field goal for that matter. The defensive front four has nearly SEC-size and the linebackers are just plain big by any league's measure.

Perkins has noticed something interesting, too, which impacts his own position. "They don't bring as much pressure but when they bring pressure they bring it late and try to catch you off-guard with that." Meaning, he and fellow Bulldog running backs in the rotation can't always go scooting downfield without a care. "We're going to make sure we stay on our Ps and Qs to pick up any protection we need."

Mostly though, "We're probably going to try to run the ball on these guys and see how things go." Meaning an opportunity for Perkins to finally get his senior season on the anticipated track. He became only the ninth Bulldog ever to rush for 1,000 yards with a big junior year, but through five games has just 190 yards. And Perkins is looking for his first rushing touchdown since October 20 of last season. So the senior has every reason to want State to come out pounding the ground this week.

Which is the core philosophy of the Bulldog offense even after the impressive passing displays of recent weeks. The air game is increasingly productive despite—or more likely because of—State's utilizing two quarterbacks. Perkins doesn't play favorites over who hands or throws him the football to be sure, yet it was only natural to be pleased watching his classmate Tyler Russell return to action last game.

"It felt great seeing Tyler out there," Perkins said. All the greater when the fifth-year senior threw touchdowns of 20 and 59 yards in the second quarter, in the process first tying and then breaking the all-time program record for scoring passes. Where many wondered if Russell would be rusty after a three-game layoff, Perkins never had a doubt.

"When he came out I just knew he was going to click, everything was going to be OK, he was throwing the ball pretty well." Make that as well as ever, especially when Russell threaded a needle of sorts to deliver the ball to Jameon Lewis while on the left sideline with a defender in reach.

"That was a great pass. Matter of fact me and (cornerback) Jamerson Love were talking about how great a pass it was to Jameon in the end zone. But Tyler is known for that, he has a great arm," said Perkins. "And he made a physical run, and you really don't see Tyler do that much! But it was great to see him get his confidence back, he had a lot of confidence at practice."

So does sophomore Dak Prescott, who has earned his own confidence in four-straight starts. Coach Dan Mullen gave the younger Dog first snap against LSU, and has not tipped any hand over who gets the start this Saturday. Nor does it matter to the head coach, who simply says Mississippi State has two starting quarterbacks and leaves everyone else guessing. Including the two Dogs directly involved in his decision.

Some squads would be disrupted, even disturbed not knowing who is number-one by mid-season. Not these Bulldogs, this season per Perkins.

"I like it, actually. It's different, it's something you've got to get used to. But as you can see in the first half Saturday it didn't miss a beat when we brought Tyler in and Dak in. It's different but you get used to it as long as you practice and everything is falling in place."

The Bulldogs have their final full practice for Bowling Green today, with a Friday brush-up. This week the injury questions have shifted away from the offensive backfield, to the line in front of them. Starters RG Ben Beckwith and LT Blaine Clausell were hurt on consecutive fourth-quarter snaps and remain questionable for game-six. Mullen has only said he expects everyone to be available by Saturday but that leaves lots of room for interpretation, especially as State has a second open-date coming up.

Adjustments for those two potential absences are moving OC Dillon Day to right guard while Dylan Holley takes over center; with Archie Muniz as the third guard. Either Justin Senior or Damien Robinson can take over at left tackle.

Defensively, starting cornerback Love is the only current question after getting banged-up for a second time this season in the LSU game. He hurt a leg on opening day, missed all one game and came off the bench the next before making the last two starts.

The cornerback position does get a Dog deeper this week though as sophomore Will Redmond is finally activated after being penalized all his freshman season and five games this year for pre-college NCAA violations.


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