Sunday ThingamaBob: MSU talking National Championship as offense rolls, stars lead and defense suffocates

Don’t be alarmed. Don’t get too excited. And also, don’t doubt him.

LaDarius Perkins, as well as his teammates, are talkin’ National Championship.

“We’ve got the chance to do it,” Mississippi State’s junior running back said Saturday night.

Indeed they do, as the Bulldogs are nearing the Top 10 and control their own destiny heading into the end of October and a showdown with No. 1-ranked Alabama, the defending BCS National Champions.

“When you defeat teams like those teams,” Perkins said, “then you can really talk National Championship.”

The good thing for MSU, Perkins said, was gaining even more confidence in a 45-3 blowout of Middle Tennessee State on Saturday evening.

Make sure and check out all of our coverage at HailState.com, where we’ve got the story of the game, all the statistics you could want, a photo gallery, video highlights and plenty more.

The win was good, certainly, and the end result was impressive, but the Bulldogs themselves didn’t really make any waves until the second half.

I’ll say the same thing Tyler Russell said and everyone who follows MSU thinks: Dan Mullen’s team is going to have to have its first four-quarter game of the season if it wants to beat Alabama.

If the Bulldogs play like they did in the second half on Saturday, they’ve got a chance against anyone in the country. If they play like they did in the first half, it’s gonna be a long night on ESPN next Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Midway through the third quarter, MSU led 10-3. Then, the Bulldogs went on the best stretch they’ve had all season.

Starting with Perkins’ 64-yard, lightning fast touchdown run at the 7:30 mark of the third quarter, MSU went on a 35-0 streak against the Blue Raiders in just under a quarter, capping it off with Derrick Milton’s six-yard scoring run with 8:51 left in the game.

By that point, the backups were in the hounds had been called off.

But it all started with Perkins, who is quietly putting together one of the best seasons by a running back in the country. He leads the SEC with 103.4 rushing yards per game, he’s the only running back in America with a rushing touchdown in every game, and most importantly, he’s come through with big plays every time MSU has been playing without much passion, which is just about every game at some point.

The rally the continued with, who else, Johnthan Banks getting his record-tying 16th career interception. The play itself got his team excited, but when he was down on the ground holding his knee with coaches and trainers around him, Davis Wade went silent.

When Banks stood up and walked off the field on his own, the place went nuts. Like a mother protecting her child, the Bulldog fans were fierce from then on out. You could practically hear his teammates thinking, “You don’t mess with Johnthan Banks.”

Upon seeing the replay, what many perceived as a late hit by MTSU appeared to be an accident as a Blue Raider got tripped up and fell, unfortunately, on top of Banks.

When Banks went down, it was clearer than ever who the heart of this team is. Lucky for MSU, he’s fine.

Now, some general thoughts on the game and MSU going forward.

  • Much like his running back, MSU’s junior quarterback Tyler Russell is quietly having a really strong and efficient season, now with 15 passing touchdowns and only one interception in 2012. You tend to think of people like West Virginia’s Geno Smith when you hear things like “So-and-so had more touchdowns than incompletions.” In a run-heavy offense, Russell had four incompletions and three touchdowns against MTSU, completing 17-of-21 passes for 191 yards. Stout. 191 yards isn’t a number that will grab many people’s attention, and because of the offense he plays in, Russell will likely continue to fly under the radar as he’ll never put up video-game stats. However, objective eyes would be hard-pressed to find many signal-callers across the country playing at a higher level for a better team.
  • MSU’s offensive line played about as well it has all season without senior right guard Tobias Smith. Freshman Justin Malone, while he did have a false start, played admirably in Smith’s stead, and the entire unit paved the way for the rush attack to rack up 231 yards on the ground, while only allowing one sack, the third this season.
  • Speaking of running the ball, did y’all catch sophomore Nick Griffin’s 44-yard scamper down the left sideline? That’s as fast and powerful of a run as we’ve seen from the big-bodied back in his career at MSU. It was also the same explosiveness we saw from him in the spring. MSU’s stable of four-deep runners (five if you count Dak Prescott) is, for lack of a better word, crazy, especially if Griffin can keep running like that.
  • And yes, let’s talk about Prescott. The redshirt freshman quarterback keeps doing more and more, and he’s making teams have to account for him a passing threat, too, completing 3-of-4 attempts Saturday. He’s a good runner, but his real danger lies in what happens when opponents don’t know what he’s going to do and have to respect both options.
  • Is A Tale of Two Johnsons too cheesy? Too late, I already said it. We’ll start with Robert Johnson, the sophomore receiver. I won’t call it a break-out, because it’s been slowly happening all season, but he’s done well every time a ball has come his way this season, and he’s made some tough catches, including his 23-yard touchdown when he butt-hopped of the ground and, outstretched, caught a dart from Russell in the endzone. Johnson is emerging is a real weapon for MSU and he adds a downfield option for Russell.
  • Now, the other Johnson – Malcolm. The sophomore tight end returned strong last week form a pectoral injury, but only played sparingly Saturday. By design, maybe? Johnson was a big part of MSU’s offense in the spring, used in a variety of formations and positions, and Mullen had big plans for the converted receiver this fall before he was hurt. I’m sure he needed rest after his first game back, but I’ll be surprised if we don’t see Johnson in big doses against Alabama next week, in the backfield, in the slot, on the outside and pretty much anywhere you can imagine.
  • Last offensive note: senior receiver Chris Smith has really bounced back from his two fumbles in the first half of the season. Seven catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns against MTSU. He looked every bit of the leading receiver he was last year and the player for MSU with more chemistry with Russell than anyone. It’s important for him to be effective for MSU, as Smith is a first down machine, and Russell showing so much confidence in him is just as key.
  • After dropping 45 points, it’s hard not to focus on the offense. But let’s not ignore a defense which held MTSU to three points. One field goal. That’s it. The Blue Raiders were held to nearly 70 yards below their average rushing yards per game, only getting 131 Saturday evening, and quarterback Logan Kilgore had a season-low 159 yards passing.
  • Senior linebacker Cam Lawrence quietly had a big game. Six tackles, including 2.5 for loss, one sack and a forced fumble, as well as the recovery. What he brings to the defense goes far beyond numbers, but his stats were impressive.
  • I still think defensive coordinator Chris Wilson is frustrated with his second defensive tackle spot, the one next to Josh Boyd. Senior Dewayne Cherrington started, but true freshman Quay Evans worked his way in early, and the gigantic youngster has been playing more and more each game. He’s extremely talented and strong and he could eventually be the answer to what Wilson is looking for.
  • Speaking of freshmen, defensive end Ryan Brown had a heckuva game in mop-up duty. He racked up six tackles and half of a sack in limited action. Short story shorter: MSU’s future on the defensive line is bright.
  • Young pups were a big story in general Saturday, on both sides of the ball, as close to a dozen not only played early, but played well.
  • Oh, one last note: MSU only punted once, on its last possession of the game. That’s about all there is to that stat, but it’s a good one.
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