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FWTCT Football Spring Position Previews: Running Back

This weekend State will take part in its annual Maroon-White football scrimmage, which signals the end of its month long spring practice each year. Heading into the spring game, we wanted to give you guys a look at what State will have at each position going into this fall. The Bulldogs will return talented players at many positions, and our first position to highlight, running backs, is no different from that.

Mississippi State has enjoyed a really good run of successful running backs. J.J. Johnson, Dicenzo Miller, Jerious Norwood, Anthony Dixon and Vick Ballard have all had 1,000 yard seasons. Norwood broke the MSU all-time rushing record only to have it broken by Dixon four years later. After Dixon, JUCO RB Vick Ballard came in and wowed us all with a 19 TD year. But Vick is now gone, and the dogs must look to replace him for the 2012 season.

The good news for State is that Jr. LaDarius Perkins returns and is experienced. Perkins was the no. 2 option last year behind Ballard, and is capable of maintaining the top spot torch that Ballard is passing on. But what does State have behind Perkins? What will this unit look like in 2012? Those questions and more will be answered in this the first installment of the FWTCT Football Spring Position Previews Series, Running Backs.

Returning Players

LaDarius Perkins 5'10", 190lbs Jr. Greenville, MS (St. Joseph)
Nick Griffin 6'0", 225lbs So. New Augusta, MS (Perry Central)
Josh Robinson 5'9", 215lbs RFr. Franklinton, LA (Franklinton HS)
Derrick Milton 6'0", 205lbs RFr. Pineville, LA (Hargrave [VA] Military Academy

Key Members to Replace

Vick Ballard | 1,189 yds rushing, 10 TD's (rushing), 1 TD (receiving), 187 yds receiving

Robert Elliot | 37 yds rushing

Key Members Returning

LaDarius Perkins | 422 yds rushing, 2 TD's (rushing), 2 TD's (receiving)

Newcomers to Watch

Josh Robinson / Redshirt Freshman

Derrick Milton / Redshirt Freshman

Xavier Grindle / True Freshman (on campus in August)

2011 Position Performance

The running backs in 2011 again had another solid year under Dan Mullen, as Senior Vick Ballard and Sophomore LaDarius Perkins partnered up to do their part pushing State to another winning season and another bowl victory. As a unit the running backs performed better than average in 2011, and finished the season off with back to back 250+ yard games against rival Ole Miss and Music City Bowl opponent Wake Forest. There were times that Ballard and Perkins (not a law firm) disappeared completely though, as they had poor showings against LSU, South Carolina and Alabama. One could argue though that those performances were understandable, as all 3 featured a defense that finished in the Top 10 in the country. On the whole, Vick and LaDarius led a running backs group that along with running QB Chris Relf, was successful in operating the spread-option offense that Dan Mullen loves and uses.

Individually, Vick Ballard led the way in 2011 with 1,189 rushing yards on the year. His running mate, LaDarius Perkins, had another solid year as well, amassing 422 yards as the no. 2 running back option in Mullen's spread-option offense. Ballard had another great year, but saw his scoring efficiency cut in half (19 rushing TD's in 2010, 10 in 2011), and in a few big games, he was quiet (38 yds vs. UGA, 67 yds vs. USC, 21 yds vs. Bama). Overall though, the unit performed fairly well, and was able to do its part in leading State to another bowl game and bowl victory.

2011 by the numbers (RB)

  • Average Rushing Yards / Game: 175.3
  • Yards / Rush: 4.4
  • Rushing TDs: 19
  • Unit Rank in SEC: 5th
  • Individual Rank: Vick Ballard (4th), LaDarius Perkins (22nd)
  • Notes of interest: Vick Ballard was tied with Trent Richardson of Alabama with 4 plays from scrimmage of 50 yards or more. Two of those came against Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl (TD runs of 60 and 72 yards).

What to Expect in 2012

With Tyler Russell taking over for Chris Relf at QB and the offense's focus shifting from more run-oriented to pass-oriented, the running backs unit may take a step back numbers wise in 2012. This would also seem to be the case too with LaDarius being the primary running back this fall, as his ability to catch the ball in space will surely be a part of the offense that Dan Mullen will want to utilize a good deal. This doesn't mean however that the RB's won't have another solid year, but I wouldn't expect a 1000 yd rusher like Mr. Ballard in 2011.

Look for Mullen to continue the use of a two-running back system in 2012, with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin carrying the blunt of the load. That doesn't mean we won't see any of youngsters Robinson and Milton, but I would expect Perkins and Griffin to be the primarily used pair in the backfield. Perkins and Griffin probably split the carries more than Perkins and Ballard did though in 2011, when the dogs did use two running backs, but Ballard was the primary option.

Replacing a talent like Vick Ballard is never easy, and the dogs may find that out first hand in 2012. But the plus side is the offense seems to be shifting away from the run SOME (not all) to accommodate Tyler Russell as the new starting QB. I believe you will see the numbers drop off as well: I wouldn't expect LaDarius or Nick Griffin to run for 1000 yards. That's not a knock on either of the two: they are very talented backs. I would just expect the offense change and skills of Perkins to dictate less running yards in 2012.

Then again, we thought there would be a significant drop off after one Anthony Dixon left in 2009, and Vick Ballard proved us wrong then. Maybe one of the four running backs on this year's roster will prove us wrong in 2012.

Next up in the FWTCT Football Spring Position Previews is Cornerbacks. Look for the CB's preview post to go up this afternoon.