Sometimes stats tell the story. Sometimes they skew it.
Regularly, the same stat will be used to prove two different sides of an argument.
But one for Mississippi State is pretty clear cut. When the Bulldogs have rushed for 100 yards, they’ve won. When they have failed to hit the century mark on the ground, they’ve lost.
Dan Mullen will tell you there’s more to it, and he’s right, but it’s a pretty telling stat.
It’s also not one missed by MSU players as they prepare to play Northwestern in the Gator Bowl tomorrow.
“We know we can throw the ball,” junior running back LaDarius Perkins said, “but when we’ve been able to run the ball well, you can pretty much guarantee victory.”
As you’d imagine, he and his teammates are hoping to follow that same plan for guaranteed victory over the Wildcats after breaking 100 yards rushing just once in the final five games of the season.
Of course, for Perkins, there’s a little bit of extra motivation. The speedster only needs 60 yards on the ground to hit 1,000 for the season, a pretty big milestone in his first year as the starter.
“We’ve gotta get LaDarius to 1,000 yards,” senior guard Tobias Smith said.
Perkins admitted he’d like to get the mark, but said his primary concern is winning over all else.
However, Smith may have given him away when joking about a conversation they had this week in Jacksonville.
“Me and him actually got into an argument about it, because he was saying it’s on us and I was saying it’s on him,” Smith said. “We’re gonna try our best to get him to 1,000 yards.”
The coaches and players may be on Perkins’ side of the debate, though.
Offensive coordinator Les Koenning said it was “just missed assignments” which gave his team some struggles on the ground in games past.
Perkins and the other backs aren’t perfect on every play, to be certain, but the offensive line is the key to a strong running attack in Koenning’s mind.
“The big part of execution is the beginning of the play, and that starts up front,” Koenning said. “I think the big thing, especially in the SEC, if you run the football, it opens up so many things.”
So, looking ahead to tomorrow, the questions turns to if MSU will be able to move the ball against NU.
State coaches and players have described the Wildcats’ defense as well-coached, smart and workman-like, without any big-time stars
All-American left guard Gabe Jackson said Northwestern may not have the most talented defense around, but said they don’t make mistakes, and that makes them tough to play against.
“They’re just disciplined. If they’re supposed to be in the gap, they’re there,” Jackson said. “They don’t do too many awkward and bizarre things. But what they do, they do it well.”
The hope, Jackson said, is that if both sides do their job, MSU can come out on the better end of the result.
Perkins believes the way get that result, among much else, will be through the running game.
“This game, we’re planning on moving the ball more on the ground,” he said. “We know we can move the ball on anybody’s defense. We’ve just gotta go back to all the basic things we’ve learned.”