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Bulldogs bursting with depth in backfield

 

Brandon Walker

 

STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State running back Nick Griffin can't wait to have fun this season. 

 

While it would seem Griffin, a senior from Perry Central High School who has battled injuries at MSU, is just referring to returning to the playing field, he has a more specific version of fun in mind. 

 

"Lining up in the backfield with (MSU quarterback Dak Prescott), that's a lot of fun," Griffin said Saturday at MSU's media day at the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex. "We like seeing him run as much as fans do. With Dak back there, it's fun to watch, and I like seeing him run as much as he likes giving us the ball." 

 

The Bulldogs enter the season with one of the nation's top dual-threat quarterbacks in Prescott, who rushed for 829 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore last season. With eight returning starters on offense, MSU likely will rely on Prescott's running ability again as it takes aim at a program-best fifth-straight bowl game. 

 

But the junior quarterback will have a young, talented group of running backs behind him. Griffin, Josh Robinson, battling to join Prescott as the workhorses of an MSU offense that looks to improve on finishing eighth in the Southeastern Conference in 2013. 

 

For MSU coach Dan Mullen, the only sure thing about the running game just three days into fall camp is that several players will get an opportunity to shine. 

 

"Every year it's a committee," Mullen said of MSU's running backs. "It seems like every year we usually have one guy step out and claim that top spot when you think of guys like Vick Ballard, LaDarius Perkins. We will roll them through in fall camp and see where it goes." 

 

Perkins, a four-year contributor from Greenville who leaves at No. 2 on MSU's career list for all-purpose yards, is gone. In his place, a number of faces -- new and old -- will battle to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Prescott in MSU's run-based spread offense. 

 

One of those is Josh Robinson, a junior, who flashed an ear-to-ear smile Saturday. 

 

"I can't wait," said Robinson, who is projected as the likely starter after collecting 459 yards and averaging 6 yards per carry as a sophomore. "I've been waiting since I started playing football for this opportunity. From middle school to high school, I just wanted a chance to shine. I'm ready." 

 

So what's it like to be a Mississippi State tailback when carries must be shared with Prescott, one of the top running quarterbacks in the country? 

 

"Playing with Dak is awesome," Griffin said. "Defenses can't focus on us when he's back there, so when I'm back there, you know they have to put so much focus on him, it makes it easier on us." 

 

But the numbers are tight. 

 

A season ago, Prescott was second in the SEC in rushing attempts by a quarterback with 134, and that cut into the chances available for a running back rotation that included Perkins, Robinson, Griffin, and freshman Ashton Shumpert. MSU tailbacks combined for 298 carries, 11th in the SEC. Only backs at Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss touched the ball fewer times. 

 

That's not an issue for Robinson. 

 

"Dak is Dak," Robinson said. "He's an incredible talent. With the ball in his hands, he makes our offense so dangerous. When I'm standing back there with him, I know that helps my ability to make plays. With so many threats on this team, I think whoever gets the ball will be dangerous." 

 

As 2013 wore on, Robinson emerged. The Franklinton, Louisiana, product rushed for 290 of his 459 yards in the last four games of the season, including a 101-yard outing against Arkansas. 

 

Now a junior, the 5-foot-5, 220-pounder is the face of a unit that has five players who likely will figure into the mix. Shumpert, a former four-star prospect from Fulton, and Griffin return, while West Point freshman Aeris Williams, Mississippi's Mr. Football in 2013, also could compete for playing time. 

 

Former wide receiver Brandon Holloway, who Mullen said "could be a great change of pace," also has been moved to running back, giving the Bulldogs a wealth of options to team with Prescott. 

 

"That just means you have to go as hard as possible," Robinson said. "When you get reps in practice, make it count. We are going to work, going to compete for those carries. When we get those carries, we're going to make them count."  

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat

 

 

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