Smith Lining Up A Fine New Years Day Finish

Smith Lining Up A Fine New Years Day Finish

Tobias Smith has only himself to blame of course. He knew LaDarius Perkins would not forget the promise made, by Smith and fellow linemen, that before this season ended their backfield buddy would reach 1,000 rushing yards. But to have this first taken as a promise, and then proclaimed publicly? "I wasn't expecting that!" Smith admitted.

"Yeah, we had a conversation the other day, we were just hanging out. It was really arguing because he was saying something and I was saying something. But I really did say that."

Which means Smith and the Mississippi State offensive line must now make good on their word. And do so in the Gator Bowl, for a national audience and on New Years Day at that. When the Bulldogs line-up against Northwestern, Perkins begins the game needing sixty yards from-scrimmage to post only the eleventh 1,000-yard season in program history.

That's a fine ambition for the Bulldog offense to be sure. In the larger post-season picture though Smith and squad have a larger goal. It is to make the entire rushing attack productive again.

In fact the 2012 Mississippi State season can be scored, or recorded, by how well the Bulldogs ran the ball. Or not. If the offense mustered over a hundred rushing yards, State won. Eight times. But in all four losses the total rushing, which includes losses on sacks and scrambles and such, was only double digits. Against Alabama, 47 yards; at LSU the very same total. And at Ole Miss, just 30 yards. It was closer against Texas A&M with 98 yards but nothing broke longer than 16 that day.

Coincidence or not, the Gator Bowl goal is clear. Pound the ground the way Mississippi State is supposed to, and it starts with the blocking. Smith admits, there were obvious struggles with the rushing in all those setbacks.

"We played some tough opponents," said Smith. "But we're a running team, so not running the ball is kind of bad. But we can go in and correct it now with this game with Northwestern."

Call it a last chance for fast fixing, because there is a definite pride factor involved here too. Nobody points a finger at any single area, much less player, for such struggles. Credit Bulldog blockers for assuming a big share of the blame though, because in their minds everything offensive begins with them. Senior Smith more than most can see what went wrong…and what it meant to the entire season.

"Oh yeah. We were real close to being a 10-2 team. So it's definitely some frustration there. And we can get that corrected we can be a 9-4 team."

Which would make the season a little more satisfying for everyone. Particularly Smith, who finally gets to start a Bulldog bowl game. He rotated at right guard back in 2010 on the previous, and winning, Gator Bowl bunch. That was also the only complete season of Smith's oft-interrupted career too, as was another injury that kept him out of the Music City Bowl last winter. Even this season he has been limited, not by a new setback but just to keep the fifth-year guard going.

For the regular schedule he played in nine games, starting eight of them including the final five contests. Quite an achievement considering all Smith has endured just to get into a fifth college campaign. "I even impressed myself! At one point of the season I didn't expect that, but I give all thanks to the Man Above." Several of these were complete, or nearly so games too. By the Egg Bowl the strains were showing to be sure but there's no concerns about being ready to start in Jacksonville.

"Oh yeah, I feel a lot better. We had a couple of days off so I'm back to 114% like I was beginning of the season."

It's useless speculation to say Mississippi State would have done this or that had Smith been full-strength all year. That also downplays some impressive efforts by his young alternate, second-year freshman guard Justin Malone who appears a star of State's future. Still even amateur observation recognized some flaws in front-line execution likely rising from a fivesome that has yet to completely, comfortably and most of all confidently meld into a finished unit.

That said, Smith pointed to progress that the same observers ought to have also seen in some November quarters. And he flatly nixes one question. "Communication has never been bad. We were just messing up on some technical stuff. So I think the communication is still pretty good." Smith also stands up for his tackles, Charles Siddoway and Blaine Clausell.

"With them being still being really first year playing for Charles from juco, and Blaine playing sparingly last year, he really impressed me."

What has outsiders more impressed is the possibility this 2012 starting line, along with Malone and backup tackle Damien Robinson, will return intact. They can…if Smith is granted a sixth season by the NCAA. The appeal process is underway, Smith said last week. "I filled it out like two weeks ago. It could take weeks so I'm waiting to hear back."

Yet the NCAA's decision might not be the final one. Smith is too polite to come right out and say he's tired of the subject. But there are hints he isn't completely set on suiting back up in spring either, that he is considering exchanging the uniform for graduate garb. It's a fine situation to be in, Smith agrees.

"I've got a couple of things in the works, you know. I have a couple of options so we'll have to see how things go."

Speaking making things go, if this is Smith's last hurrah at guard he wants a game worth remembering…which means a big offensive day for everyone. It isn't just their running back teammate within striking distance of 1K yards for the season. Chad Bumphis has caught 904 yards-worth of passes, and for 12 touchdowns at that. A really, really big receiving afternoon would let senior Bumphis bow-out with only the second 1,000-yard receiving year ever by a Bulldog…and the other was achieved way back in 1978.

But then it was Perkins to whom the promise was made by Smith. "Him and Gabe Jackson," the junior back clarifies, again where Smith can hear. "So y'all better make that happen! I'm looking forward to that!" Though Perkins will miss the, umm, debates with his big blocker.

Smith? Not so much. "Well, with Perk you never win an argument!"

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