Thursday, March 29, 2012
Spring shoes to fill: Mississippi State
By Edward Aschoff
Mississippi State has some questions on both sides of the ball, but the running back spot might carry significant responsibility this fall:
OUT: RB Vick Ballard. The Bulldogs are looking to replace one of the SEC's best interior defensive linemen (Fletcher Cox) and are down two safeties, but perhaps no one was more important to Mississippi State the past two seasons than Ballard. He carried the ball 379 times for 2,157 yards in two seasons with the Bulldogs. He also scored 31 total touchdowns, including a school-record 19 rushing touchdowns in 2010. Ballard was fourth in the SEC in rushing last season and averaged 4.7 yards per carry in conference play. He also rushed for more than 65 yards nine times last season, with six being 100-plus-yard games. One thing that made Ballard so valuable was his ability to get the tough yards, but he wasn't just a beast of a downhill runner, he showcased pretty good speed as well. It was rare that Ballard went down after just one hit. He was Mississippi State's most consistent offensive player the last two seasons and replacing his production won't be easy.
IN: LaDarius Perkins, Nick Griffin, Josh Robinson or Derrick Milton. The prime players here are Perkins and Griffin. Perkins has carried the ball 188 times in two seasons, so he knows his way around a football field. While he isn't exactly the power back that Ballard was, he has the potential to be more explosive because of his speed. The question is if he's ready to take the sort of beating that Ballard and most SEC running backs experience during a full season. That's where Griffin comes in. The people around Mississippi State think that Griffin could be a really special player in this league and think that he looks more like Ballard on the field than any of the other running backs that Mississippi State has. He only registered 108 yards on 16 carries last season, but much bigger things are expected from him in 2012. At 6-foot, 225 pounds, the sophomore will be a load for defenders to handle this fall. Although he entered spring behind Perkins on the depth chart, it wouldn't shock anyone in Starkville if he moved ahead of Perkins before the 2012 season was over. Robinson and Milton both redshirted last season, but are taking reps this spring. They might look like understudies for the other two, but you can never have too many running backs in this league.