— STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — First, there was Anthony Dixon. Then there was Vick Ballard.
While both are now in the NFL, the string of great Mississippi State running backs continues.
The latest is LaDarius Perkins, who is putting up big numbers for the No. 13 Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) as they prepare to face No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0) on Saturday.
There are bigger names in the conference — South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, Alabama's Eddie Lacy and Texas A&M's do-everything quarterback Johnny Manziel — but it's the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Perkins who leads the SEC with 103.4 rushing yards per game. He's also fourth in the league with eight touchdowns.
His name is unfamiliar to many in the SEC. But Alabama is learning quickly.
"A lot of people haven't heard of him," Alabama's linebacker Nico Johnson says. "That means he's going to come in with a chip on his shoulder, you know? I like to think we're a good defense this year; he's probably thinking that, too. So this is his chance to showcase what he can do."
So far, Perkins has shown he can do just about anything.
He was the backup to Ballard over the past two seasons, and because of his smaller stature, was used mostly on outside running plays where he didn't have to deal with the 300-pound behemoths that clog the middle of SEC defenses.
But now he's the starter and has shown he can run between the tackles with success. He's averaged exactly 100 yards in the team's three SEC victories.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said Perkins has deceptive strength, and learned how to handle the increased load by watching Dixon and Ballard.
"I think in the development of our program, our guys learn from guys in front of them," Mullen said. "He just picked up on that."