By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State’s once-feared rushing attack has lost some of its punch.
The Bulldogs’ rushing numbers have steadily declined since Dan Mullen took over as head coach in 2009, and over the last three games the MSU rushing attack has bottomed out: Just 192 yards combined against Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU.
All of those games were losses for State (7-3, 3-3 SEC), which is averaging 2.7 yards per carry with one rushing touchdown during this skid. Part of the rushing woes were due to falling behind very early against Alabama and Texas A&M, and then starting tailback LaDarius Perkins (804 yards, eight touchdowns) missed the LSU game with a quad injury.
Against LSU, the Bulldogs never got the run game going, gaining 10 yards on three carries in the first quarter and 4 yards on four carries in the second.
MSU finished with 47 yards on 24 carries.
“But I don’t think we weren’t running the ball; I don’t think we had the opportunity to continue to stick with that, by making those mistakes and falling behind,” Mullen said.
For MSU, this is the worst three-game stretch of running the ball since 1999, when it gained only 169 yards against Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas.
“We have played good defenses. Those guys are good for a reason because they play really good football,” MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said Monday. “We felt like with LSU, throwing the football was an advantage for us and that’s what we tried to exploit.”
Since Mullen’s arrival, MSU’s rushing numbers have steadily decreased. State averaged 227.6 rushing yards in 2009, and in 2010 that number dipped to 214.9, then to 175.3 last season.
This fall, MSU is rushing for 145.5 yards, partly due to a more robust passing attack led by Tyler Russell. The Bulldogs are averaging 238 passing yards per game, by far their best number under Mullen and close to the school’s season record of 239.7 set in 1978.
MSU hopes to get Perkins back this week when Arkansas visits, and perhaps he can boost the run game.
“We expect Perk to play,” Mullen said, “but again it’s a muscular thing, so the trainers expect him to be good to go to play and be out on the practice field by Wednesday.”