By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mississippi State’s run game has been running on empty the last few games.
The Bulldogs, who face No. 21 Northwestern in the Gator Bowl on Tuesday, have been held under 100 yards rushing in four of their last five outings, averaging 55.5 yards in losses to Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU and Ole Miss.
State beat Arkansas during that stretch behind a 203-yard rushing effort.
So what’s been the problem? Well, MSU has faced some stiff defenses, and it fell behind early in three of those games.
But against Ole Miss, it was tied at halftime. The Bulldogs never got the run game going and finished the night with 30 yards on 25 carries.
“You saw them, just missed assignments,” offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. “When you have missed assignments, it’s not good.”
He’s talking about blocking. Head coach Dan Mullen noted that in the Ole Miss game, an offensive lineman went the wrong way on three consecutive plays.
MSU has some good running backs, led by junior LaDarius Perkins, but they’ve had trouble finding holes to run through. Perkins, who’s rushed for 940 yards and eight touchdowns on the season, has been held to 216 yards and no TDs over his last four games (he missed the LSU game with an injury).
He’s watched the film and knows what’s been wrong.
“We didn’t have the right fits on certain plays. They were giving us different looks we didn’t expect, things like that,” Perkins said. “We can hit the home run, we’ve just got to make sure we stay on blocks and fit like we should. That’s all it is, making sure we stay on the blocks.”
Perkins has gotten some good help this season from backups Derrick Milton (194 yards, two TDs) and Josh Robinson (244 yards, one TD), both redshirt freshmen. With sophomore Nick Griffin (223 yards, TD) out injured, Milton and Robinson will need to be significant factors against Northwestern, which is giving up just 122.8 rushing yards per game.
“I expect a lot of help out of them,” Perkins said. “Those guys have come a long way. They get better and better every day.”
Perkins said he feels confident the offensive line will perform better this time around. If so, Perkins should reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career.
And it should lead to a 100-yard rushing day for MSU, which has won the last 12 times it’s reached that mark.
“That’s the first thing coach Mullen said, we need to run the ball on these guys,” Perkins said. “We have to run the ball. We know we can throw the ball, but if we can run the ball pretty well, you pretty much guarantee the victory.”