MSU's Perkins rises to occasion in rivalry game

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – LaDarius Perkins has been an all-purpose pain in Ole Miss’ backside the past two years.
The junior tailback has been a big reason for Mississippi State’s recent dominance of its in-state rival. In two games versus the Rebels, Perkins has accounted for 421 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, and he’s recorded five plays of 30 or more yards.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder from Greenville has earned some nicknames because of his Egg Bowl prowess.
“I’ve heard (fans) call me a lot of that – ’Rebel Killer,’ ‘Black Bear Killer,’ all that type of stuff. I love it,” Perkins said.
His next shot at punishing Ole Miss is Saturday, when No. 25 MSU (8-3, 4-3 SEC) visits Oxford. That’s the scene of Perkins’ most memorable performance of his career, Egg Bowl or otherwise.
In a 31-23 win there two years ago, he rushed for 98 yards and added 140 yards and two touchdowns receiving. His TDs covered 33 and 36 yards, and his 71-yard reception set up MSU’s final touchdown of the night.
Up to that point, Perkins had been a complementary backup to Vick Ballard, and he remained in that role until this season.
But that game showed Perkins what he was capable of doing.
“My redshirt freshman year, I knew that when I had that big game that it was a lot more to come,” Perkins said. “I had a good game against them last year, also, so I’m just trying to make sure it keeps carrying over.”
What’s made Perkins especially dangerous against Ole Miss – and other teams – is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s not always a big part of the passing game, but when he’s involved, big plays tend to happen.
In last week’s 45-14 win over Arkansas, Perkins had two touchdown receptions. On the first, a 13-yarder, he hauled in Tyler Russell’s pass right next to the boundary as a defender hung on his left arm.
That ‘it’ factor
“To me that was really pass interference, but he was able to still lock in and focus and still come up with the big play,” running backs coach Greg Knox said. “He has that ‘it’ factor when it comes to that ball in the air. He goes and makes that play.”
Knox said Perkins has a wide receiver’s mentality and “great natural ball skills.” For his career, Perkins has 38 catches for 450 yards – an average of 11.8 yards per catch.
Not bad for a running back.
“He knows if he gets matched up on a linebacker, not to many linebackers in the SEC can cover him,” Russell said. “I trust him to go up and make a play for me.”
Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5) has a new coaching staff and new defensive scheme this season, and it uses smaller, quicker players on defense. That means the Rebels might be able to harness the speedy Perkins a little better than in the past.
“Those guys can get off blocks real fast, and that’s how they make a lot of plays,” Perkins said. “We’ve got to make sure we stick on blocks and make big plays when we have to.”
If MSU can make those big plays, chances are Perkins will be involved.
brad.locke@journalinc.com