“Good defensive line, good linebackers, good secondary,” Perkins said. “Those defensive backs can stay with a lot of receivers. So they’re able to play man coverage a lot. All around they move to the ball pretty fast.”
Yep. Nothing new to see here, so every Dog just move along with gameplanning for Mississippi State’s Saturday evening showdown with LSU (6:06 kickoff). Of course Perkins is in no sense dismissing the 10th-ranked opponent lightly, much less their annually-impressive defensive squad. To this fifth-year senior the trick is accepting the challenge ahead, preparing as best everyone can, and just calling the cadence to see what happens on Scott Field this time around.
“I just feel if we execute like we should then we should be able to make a lot of big plays,” Perkins said, all workman-like and such. Because as this 2013 season develops the starting running back sees increasing potential from his unit. Wait now…’sees’ might not be the best choice of verbs.
Because Perkins has had to do a little more watching than actually working lately. He’s been nagged by a gimpy ankle since opening day at Houston, which sidelined the senior one entire game and has reduced his carries since. Perkins had eight touches at Auburn for 36 yards, five more for 23 yards against Troy. The result is a rushing pace far below what was projected for a proven play-maker with just 109 yards through September. Oh, and no touchdowns. In fact Perkins isn’t so far off his rushing output with the six passes he’s caught, for 75 yards.
This is something backs Coach Greg Knox and the offensive staff know needs changing as soon as Perkins is full-speed. Monday’s word was encouraging. “I feel pretty good. I’ve been out there cutting on my foot and ankle and I feel pretty good,” he said.
“I can’t wait, I’m ready to get back in game-mode. I’ve practiced today, had a good practice today. We just watched film and I looked pretty good. All the backs looked pretty good, we didn’t really make any mistakes today other than a couple of things. But we all looked good today and we try to make sure we keep getting better every day.”
Right, the other backs…the guys who have been happy to carry their elder’s load, literally. Sophs Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton and junior Nick Griffin have been fine fill-ins so far, along with activated true freshman Ashton Shumpert. So there are plenty Dogs who can haul the ball here, and not just full-time running backs either. Receivers Jameon Lewis and Brandon Holloway have made gains and points carrying from scrimmage too.
Good for the team, but not completely fun for Perkins…especially last time as State kept pouring it onto Troy after the starter had to limp off the field with the ankle re-aggravated.
“It was a little frustrating,” said Perkins. “I mean you want to be out there with the team. But the trainers knew what was best for me, and they’ve been treating me well and helping me rehab to get me back on the field as quick as possible.”
It’s worth noting that most MSU opponents won’t mind if Perkins takes his time returning. At Auburn he was clearly a marked man, the focus of the Tiger defense intent on stopping State’s ground game. “When I watched the film I kind of felt like that. But we had a different gameplan then with Dak (Prescott), and he made a lot of big plays. He was moving the ball down the field pretty well. As long as we’re moving the ball and everything is going well on offense it’s fine with me.”
A fine attitude, though the head coach openly wondered if quarterback keepers kept the ball away from Perkins a little too often that evening. By the same token if opponents obsess on the back it should free some lanes for running quarterback Prescott to gain ground himself, or buy Tyler Russell time to look downfield for targets. There is some pride in being a ‘decoy’ Dog of sorts, Perkins will agree…but he’d really rather be running for-real.
“To be honest it does get frustrating. I’m not going to sit here and lie that it doesn’t. but it does get frustrating. Like I said, just be patient and keep doing your job. Coach Knox preaches to us about what can you do without the ball in your hands, if you can make a big impact without the ball that’s good.”
After all the first-game sputters against Oklahoma State, the Bulldog offense has found a faster track. Coincidence or not the big plays have begun coming consistently with Prescott taking the snaps while Russell recovers from the August 31 concussion. Perkins of course played in the same backfield in 2010 and ’11, albeit as the backup to Vick Ballard, with runner/thrower Chris Relf.
“I see a lot of older plays that we ran back with Chris Relf. I see those plays coming back, just different formations, that’s all. And we look like we’ve been executing them pretty well. So we’re going to keep going until somebody can stop it.” But, and this can’t be over-emphasized, the return of Russell this week by no means tosses away the plays which are now working well.
Just the opposite, per Perkins. “Oh yeah, most definitely. Mixing the quarterbacks in with Tyler and Dak, it keeps them off-balance so they won’t be able to key in on things. Hopefully everything goes right.” It is also a positive comment on the overall offense’s maturity that changing quarterbacks is take in-stride.
“I mean Dak’s been here three years. He knows the system, he knows to make the right reads. Tyler knows, he’s the veteran so he’s learning a lot from Tyler. Those guys get in there and they make it happen.”
But making things happen against the Alcorn States and Troys of the football-world are one thing. Executing successfully against yet-another intimidating Tiger defense is entirely another. After all, Perkins has been around for just four frustrating losses to LSU, which is only one-third of State’s ongoing losing streak in the series dating back to 2000.
Interestingly, though, nobody in the Bulldog locker room seems weighed-down by that history.
“We hadn’t even talked about it, we’re just itching for this victory,” Perkins said. “They’re coming off of a loss and we don’t know how they’re going to respond. They might come out ready, they might come out sluggish, you never know. But it’s LSU, they have good players all around the field, so…”
So, line ‘em up and kick it off Saturday evening and find out if something is ready to change.