By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State lost its top tailback, LaDarius Perkins, to the NFL, and Derrick Milton transferred to McNeese State.
Yet the Bulldogs do not seem to be worried about their running game at all.
Quarterback Dak Prescott returns as the team’s leading rusher. But MSU also has a bevy of quality backs including four who chewed up 783 yards and scored seven touchdowns on the ground a season ago.
“I don’t know if I’ve had this many quality backs in a while,” said running backs coach Greg Knox. “The two freshmen have come in and shown they can play in this league and the veterans coming back are solid. Josh Robinson, Nick Griffin, Ashton Shumpert and Brandon Holloway are all playing well right now. We’ve got competition at that position.”
The four returning backs, along with true freshmen Aries Williams and Dontavian Lee, have all split time in the backfield during training camp.
“They are all getting equal amounts of reps right now,” Knox said. “But as we start to prepare for a game then it’ll cut down.”
Knox mentioned the Bulldogs running out of two- and even three-back sets some this fall.
Griffin is the veteran of the group. The fifth-year senior has had major surgeries on both knees during his career but finally seems healthy entering his final campaign.
“I’m really motivated,” Griffin said. “I’ve been slowed down by injuries but this year that’s not the case. I’m real excited to see what I can do.”
The injuries have limited the 6-foot, 226-pounder to just 72 career carries for 427 yards and three touchdowns over 31 games.
Robinson returns as the Bulldogs leading back having gained 459 yards and three scores last season on 78 attempts. The junior also hauled in 12 passes for 115 yards and earned a pair of starts.
“I’ve dropped my body weight down so I’m a little bit faster,” Robinson said. “I’m getting smarter about the game. You have to have a passion for this game so I’ve got to continue to do what I do to move forward.”
Shumpert, a former Daily Journal Offensive Player of the Year at Itawamba AHS, also started two games as a true freshman last season. The 6-foot-2, 218-pounder rushed 46 times for 190 yards and scored three times in 2013.
Holloway split time between running back and receiver last fall. This year he will be in the backfield full-time and is the fastest player on the Bulldogs roster.
“I feel like Holloway is one of the most electrifying players on this team, if not the whole conference,” Griffin said. “He’s crazy fast and has a whole arsenal of moves. We’re excited to get him on the field.”
State signed a pair of power backs in February in Williams and Lee. Williams was Mississippi’s Mr. Football last season at West Point while Lee led Forrest County AHS to a Class 4A state championship.