This week’s game: Arkansas (4-6, 2-4 SEC) at MSU (7-3, 3-3), Saturday, 11:21 a.m., SEC Network (Dave Neal, Andre Ware and Cara Capuano)
One thing you’ve been able to count on in recent years with MSU is an effective rushing attack. As you can read in today’s Journal, though, the numbers are trending downward, in particular the last three games. MSU is averaging 64 yards during this three-game losing skid, the worst such stretch since 1999 (go figure).
State also had a bad three-game stretch in 2006, when it totaled just 195 yards. These last three games are the only three games of the season in which the Bulldogs have been held below 100 yards rushing. It happened four times last year, none in 2010 and once in 2009.
And then you look at the overall rushing numbers during the Dan Mullen era, and they’ve dropped dramatically:
• 2009: 227.6 ypg
• 2010: 214.9 ypg
• 2011: 175.3 ypg
• 2012: 145.5 ypg
There are some obvious reasons for the decline. For starters, MSU has a much better passing attack this season. Whereas the running numbers have gone down, the passing numbers have skyrocketed.
• 2009: 144.4 ypg
• 2010: 186.5 ypg
• 2011: 181.9 ypg
• 2012: 238.0 ypg
But the total offensive numbers aren’t as high as they were in 2010, and so MSU either needs to get even more from its passing attack, or it needs the running game to more closely resemble what it used to be. LaDarius Perkins is having a fine year, and even during this three-game stretch – of which he played two games – the junior tailback has put up decent numbers. He carried 18 times for 80 yards in the Alabama and Texas A&M games combined, an average of 4.4 yards per carry. The rest of the team averaged 2.2 ypc in those two games.
The reason Perk didn’t get more work, of course, is because State fell behind early in those two games, and then he was out injured for the LSU game. Nick Griffin stepped in as the starter and carried 11 times for 38 yards (3.5 ypc), but MSU had to play catch-up come the second half.
The main problem seems to be depth. We’ve talked a lot about how MSU goes four-deep at tailback, but as I’ve written before, Perkins is carrying much more of the load than predecessor Vick Ballard ever did. That was due to Ballard having Perkins and a running quarterback in Chris Relf, and because of that Ballard only accounted for 33.5 of the carries during his two seasons at MSU.
Perkins has accounted for 46.4 percent of the carries this fall, and prior to the LSU game that he missed, that percentage was exactly 50. Josh Robinson (21.8 ypg), Derrick Milton (17.9 ypg) and Griffin (14.5 ypg) have had nice moments this season but have not given MSU’s run game the extra beef we thought it might. Good news is, Griffin seems more confident and ready to take on a bigger role.
“He graded a champion in the (LSU) game and did his job,” Mullen said. “That was a real positive and something that will be a real positive to build on in the future.”
• More links: My press conference notebook, which covers MSU’s losing skid, Tobias Smith, the Egg Bowl and Nick Bell. … Arkansas coach John L. Smith – the lame duck with $40 million in debt hanging over him – is still smiling. … The Hogs could be without tight end Chris Gragg again this week.