For two years, LaDarius Perkins was a secondary option. Vick Ballard was Mississippi State’s starting running back, while Perkins was merely a complementary rusher. He was good complement, to be certain, but he was relegated to spot duty, that coming after he redshirted his first year.
Once Ballard graduated and went to the NFL, Perkins saw the opportunity to become the feature back in Dan Mullen’s offense.
“I knew it was my turn to be the starter,” Perkins said, “and I knew I had to step up.”
However, those outside the program, fans and media alike, questioned whether or not the junior running back would be able to do it.
Standing 5’10” and weighing in at around 190 pounds, they just didn’t think he could handle it. They weren’t convinced he could get tough yards up the middle or handle the beating of anywhere from 15-25 touches a game.
“Yeah, I used to get that a lot, that I couldn’t be an every-down back,” Perkins said. “As you can see right now, I’m proving people wrong.”
He certainly is, averaging 7.0 yards per carry three games into the season and coming off a 179-yard, one touchdown performance against Troy last Saturday.
“That’s pretty big, huh,” running backs coach Greg Knox said with a smile.
And that’s not all.
Perkins leads the team in all-purpose yards, and it’s not even close, while he’s become the clear every-down running back so few thought he could be.
He seems to be handling the pain just fine. If anything hurts, junior quarterback Tyler Russell said, it’s Perkins’ back, sore from carrying the team.
When the Bulldog passing game struggled in the first half against Troy, suffering from multiple drops by receivers, Russell went to the teammate he knew he could depend on.
“Me and Tyler were talking going into the locker room at halftime,” Perkins said. “He was like, they’re gonna put it on my back and for me to make some plays and to carry the team on my back and get the win.”
Said Russell, “I told LaDarius at halftime, we can’t really complete anything right now, so you’ve gotta step up. And he did that.”
As Perkins ran, MSU held onto the game.
One of the more impressive parts of Perkins’ emergence as a star in the backfield is how he’s doing it.
In the past Perkins got most of his mileage on the edges, whether through passes, pitches or just runs bounced outside.
This year, Perkins is taking it straight through the middle, right at the heart of the defense. And he’s winning.
“When he hits a hole,” offensive coordinator Les Koenning said, “you watch him. He’ll accelerate and get going.”
Perkins deflects the praise away from himself and credits the offensive line for creating those holes and making it possible for him to run where ever he pleases.
“If you’re gonna run inside, you better run with a low pad level,” Knox said. “He’s understanding that part of the game and that’s helping break tackles and earn extra yards.”
With the help of the offensive line, Koenning said they are able to get Perkins where they want – matched up one-on-one with defensive backs – to help him get those extra few yards.
Even now, as a feature-back, Perkins can be a matchup nightmare.
“That’s turned out pretty good for us,” Koenning said.
The strong running of Perkins has helped open up the passing game for Russell, Koenning said, while adding that the reverse is true, as well. When Perkins and Russell both perform well, they make each other even better.
While the offensive coordinator himself believed in Perkins from the start, Koenning understands where the questions came from.
“I don’t say this in a bad manner, but you look at LaDarius, he’s not a really big kid,” Koenning said. “He’s kinda smaller, compact. But, man, can he run. When somebody sees him, they go, ‘Oh, he’s not real big. But he does all that?’ You watch him on film and he does do all that. He’s exciting when he has the ball in his hands, and he’ll get in there and block, too.”
The talk, as you’d imagine, has ceased.
“I haven’t heard that since back in the summer,” Perkins said.