A mere four months ago, I wrote about the potential of the MSU running game this season. I asked the extremely bold question, "Could this be the greatest depth we've had?" The depth is there, but the results weren't exactly backing up my statement. So let's backtrack, shall we?
MSU has been known throughout its history as a team that runs the football. Part of that is the fact that we've never had a passing game to show off and part of that is the fact that they've always seemed to have very good running backs. This year we've seen the emergence of Tyler Russell. He's shattered nearly every single-season record in the passing game and is quickly moving up the charts in all-time lore. With that comes more of a reliance on his arm rather than on the legs of the backs.
Another thing to take into account is the fact that MSU has relied more on LaDarius Perkins to be an every-down back than on his counterparts. We came into this season believing that Nick Griffin and Perkins would share a lot of the carries with Josh Robinson and Derek Milton rotating in. It turned out to be more of a one-man backfield.
As a matter of fact, Perkins had more rushes (186) than the three other backs combined (114). He also is on the cusp of being another 1,000 yard rusher in MSU's history with just 30 yards to spare going into the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.
With 1688 net yards rushing this season, it wasn't a total loss for the Bulldogs. It was the way the year ended for the rushing attack that is the biggest disappointment. In MSU's first seven ballgames (all wins) they rushed for 200 yards three times with no game under 100 yards. In their final five games, MSU managed 200 yards rushing just once against Arkansas. What's the biggest story of it all, is the fact that MSU was unable to crack 100 yards on the ground in every loss. While the defenses were of greater talent, not gaining 100 yards on the ground is unacceptable.
Now, grant you, the passing game was much more active in these losses with the Bulldogs falling behind and relying on the pass. But against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, the Bulldogs managed only 30 yards on 25 carries. Simply unacceptable. Since Dan Mullen has arrived at MSU, all success has ridden on the rushing game. While it's nice to finally have a quarterback that can throw for 3,000 yards and over 25 touchdowns, you simply don't win championships in the passing game.
I encourage you to challenge that last statement I just made. Look at every champion in college football, well, forever and find a team that passed the football 60 percent of the time and won. Defense wins championships but so does a dominating rushing attack. In the 2009 and 2010 seasons when Mullen was building the program, the MSU ground game rarely had negative plays and competed with teams it shouldn't have because of it. Against Florida at Gainesville, they ran the football 90 percent of the game and won.
Simply stated, this team has the juice to run on anyone in the country. Several times we've seen Griffin or Perkins get a big run and settle for the passing game immediately. But for the most part, you look at the running game and see that 4.3 yard per carry stat and wonder, what is going on here? I'm not sure if it's a blocking scheme or a player breakdown, but the running game took a step back this season.
I am confident that this will improve as the next few seasons go on. The full running back corp returns as well as a couple of potential big time recruits. We'll see how this team bounces back in the Gator Bowl but it certainly isn't what MSU fans expected coming in.
What do you say folks? Do you agree with this assessment? Would love your feedback.