By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – As Mississippi State looks to replace a 1,000-yard rusher, it has two promising options in LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin. The question, of course, is whether either one can handle the load.
Then again, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to share it.
Perkins will be a junior and by far the more experienced of the two. He’s rushed for 988 yards and five touchdowns the past two seasons as Vick Ballard’s backup. With Ballard gone, he has a chance to be the No. 1 back.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Perkins has plenty of speed at his disposal, but he’s trying to shake the label of scatback.
“I gained a good bit of weight this offseason, and I’m in great shape,” he said. “I feel like I can carry the load.”
Perhaps he can, but the coaches are withholding final judgment on that for now. Perkins has averaged 7.2 carries per game in his career.
“I think he’s healthy enough to do that. We’ve just got to see if he’s capable of it,” running backs coach Greg Knox said.
Health is more of an issue with Griffin, a third-year sophomore who got a late start to the 2011 season because of an ACL tear he suffered last spring. Knox thinks Griffin still has a mental obstacle with his knee, but the tailback said otherwise.
“I don’t even think about that any more,” he said.
Still, Knox will keep a close eye on it.
“I’m just still monitoring him but hoping to get through a complete spring. If we get through a complete spring with him, that’ll be a big plus mentally for him.”
Griffin played in five games last season, rushing for 108 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. At 6-foot, 225 pounds, he has the look of a full-time SEC tailback.
“Yeah, he looks the part, but we’ve got to get him involved where he can learn the offense and understand what’s going on and kind of react and make his cuts again, get him back to where he was,” Knox said.
Perkins has the edge
Perkins already has that understanding, so that gives him an edge as far as being the lead guy. He sees himself as a willing leader, too – not just for Griffin, but for redshirt freshmen Derrick Milton and Josh Robinson.
Two years ago, there was concern as to whether the Bulldogs could replace Anthony Dixon, the school’s all-time leading rusher. Ballard and Perkins split the carries early on before Ballard finally earned the No. 1 role.
What’s different this time around is having a veteran like Perkins returning, and MSU knows it doesn’t necessarily have to be a one-man show.
“We’re in good spirits about it, but we’re pushing each other,” Griffin said. “I don’t see why we can’t be the best running back duo in the SEC, or the country for that matter.”