October 11, 2010 11:21:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State''s 47-24 win over Houston only strengthened its identity since head coach Dan Mullen took over last season.
MSU rushed for a season-high 409 yards against the Cougars, the most since the Bulldogs ran for 464 yards against Arkansas State in 1992.
Of course, this comes as no surprise after the Bulldogs led the Southeastern Conference in rushing with 227.6 yards per game last season.
Mullen has preached balance this season, hoping to limit the wear and tear on quarterback Chris Relf, who leads the team in carries with 65.
And with three new running backs replacing MSU''s all-time leading rusher Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre, Mullen entered the season satisfied a rotation among three backs would get the job done.
So far, the combination has been successful, as the team is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
Adding to the bounty is junior Vick Ballard, who has proven to be Dixon''s replacement both in running style and productivity.
Ballard is averaging a robust 7.2 yards per carry and leads the team with 418 yards after a career night against the Cougars.
The former junior college all-American scored three touchdowns and ran for a career-high 134 yards at Houston. Saturday''s game marked the second straight week Ballard eclipsed 100 yards and led the team on the ground.
"Vick, what I saw him do is create on his own," Mullen said Sunday during his weekly teleconference. "Make some people miss and turn a regular run into a longer run."
Mississippi State''s rushing game is a staple of its offense, and despite motivation to bring the passing game further along Mullen is satisfied with the offense''s current identity.
"Our goal, it''s no secret we want to be a run, play-action team," Mullen said. "Having a big night like last night, we need to do that consistently week in and week out."
Brignone sprains knee
Mississippi State starting center J.C. Brignone will be limited in practice after suffering a sprained knee at Houston.
The third-year starter went down early in the Bulldogs'' win and didn''t return to the game after a series of discussions with trainers, offensive line coach John Hevesy and Brignone, Mullen said.
And after seeing wide receiver Leon Berry pick up a season-ending ankle injury, Mullen made the halftime decision to cut Brignone''s night short.
"They said there''s a chance we could put him back in the game, but he could hurt it worse," Mullen said. "I imagine he''s already been in and had a treatment this morning."
Mullen said Brignone will be limited in practice and probably won''t be in the field until Thursday.
Starting guard Quentin Saulsberry played center Saturday in place of Brignone.
Mullen didn''t specify Berry''s ankle injury Saturday, but he is hopeful the senior can make it back for a bowl game. Berry, who had a Houston player roll onto his ankle, left the field with a stabilizing brace.