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Mississippi State Needs to Use Bowl Game as Running Back Tryout

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Dan Mullen needs to find his running back for the future when MSU takes on NC State in the Belk Bowl.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams were the standout names we heard all summer in the running back competition behind expected starter Ashton Shumpert. Instead Brandon Holloway logged the majority of the carries over the 2015 regular season to lead all running backs with 372 yards -- and finishing second on the team behind Dak Prescott's 541 rushing yards.

In MSU's rich tradition at the running back position, it's odd for the Bulldogs to have a back finish south of the 1,000-yard mark. The fact that there is one game to go and no running back has even eclipsed the 400-yard mark tells the tale of how bad of a year it was for one of MSU's most reliable positions over the years.

As redshirt freshmen, Lee and Williams clearly just weren't ready for the spotlight. Each showed flashes but more often than not they showed poor vision to run through the few holes the offensive line was able to create. Shumpert didn't fare much better and regressed a good bit since the end of last season when he started to look like an SEC running back. He continued his fundamental problem of running with his pad level too high and failed to become the veteran leader we thought he would be as a junior.

Combine all that and what you get is a severely undersized speed back in Holloway who was forced into a role as an every-down player. He had his share of big plays and definitely performed better than the rest of the backs, but he was relied on way too much and MSU's running game was doomed from the start.

State only rushed for 1700 yards as a team, a reduction of over 1300 yards from the 2014 season. Of course the bowl game will count towards the final numbers, but I don't think the gap will be closed too much with just one more game.

So where does MSU go from here?

For starters, the Belk Bowl is the last game Dak Prescott will suit up in maroon and white. That's as big of a blow to the running game as anything.

While the bowl game will be the end of a career for No. 15, Dan Mullen should make it the start of one for one of the young running backs.

Ready or not, Lee and Williams should be thrown in the fire to see who comes out at the end. This game absolutely has to be an early competition for 2016. Mullen will probably choose to pound Holloway over and over and give Dak plenty of carries in his last game, but if he wants to build for the future, he'll make the Belk Bowl a running back tryout.

The first goal should be to win the game and send Dak out a winner, but priority number two needs to be providing Lee and Williams with carries and lots of them.

MSU needs one of those guys to start standing out because if Holloway and Shumpert have to carry the load again next season, the results will be the same. State needs that mean streak they once had on offense. For that to happen, finding a back that can carry 20+ times and pick up tough yards between the tackles is a must.

Of course that competition won't stop at Lee and Williams next year. It would be awesome if players could participate in a bowl game without losing a redshirt because freshman Nick Gibson is a highly touted player that may have the highest ceiling of the bunch.

Unfortunately coaches don't have that luxury right now, so we'll have to wait until next season to see what Gibson brings to the table. Hopefully Mullen is using the bowl practices to heat up the competition between the three.

From Anthony Dixon to Vick Ballard to Ladarius Perkins to Josh Robinson, the running backs under Mullen have never been a concern. Right now they are, and finding that next guy should be on his agenda when his team takes on NC State on December 30.