STARKVILLE — LaDarius Perkins is back.
More accurately, Perkins is healthy and ready to be a weapon for the Mississippi State football team’s offense.
For the first time since he suffered an ankle injury in the season opener against Oklahoma State, Perkins was a primary option Saturday for an offense that desperately needed his production in a 21-20 victory against Bowling Green. He even scored his first touchdown of the season after not reaching the end zone for 350 days.
“I think it’s the first time since the opening week he’s been healthy,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “He wasn’t 100 percent for Troy and got hurt in that game with the same injury.”
The ankle injury Perkins suffered in the loss to Oklahoma State forced him to miss the next game against Alcorn State. Despite being in the lineup every game since, Perkins said Saturday he hadn’t felt the same physically until his 83-yard performance against Bowling Green.
“Not quick enough hitting holes and stuff like that,” Perkins said. “With an ankle injury, it’s hard to overcome so quick. (You miss) the quickness and hitting the holes like you should. You’re not playing like you want to because you’re scared. Something might happen to it.”
The senior running back also needed to score his first touchdown to build his confidence. He did that on MSU’s first drive, taking the handoff and leaping over the pile to get the Bulldogs (3-3) on the scoreboard.
“It felt real good,” Perkins said of his first touchdown since last season against Arkansas. “(When) I came to the sideline a lot of teammates came and talked to me about it. They’re like, ‘(You) finally got in.’ But the main thing is we won.”
Perkins enters the bye week second on the team in rushing yards (273) and attempts (55) behind running quarterback Dak Prescott.
“Perk does a great job. That comes with practice. He had a great week of practice,” Prescott said.
Last week, nagging injuries to the offensive line forced Perkins and the rest of backfield to learn the nuances of different combinations.
Even without Perkins’ normal production, MSU is averaging 214.33 rushing yards per game thanks to Prescott, a sophomore quarterback. The Bulldogs are sixth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards. That statistic goes up to 252.33 yards per game in the team’s three victories.
Perkins also caught a career-high four passes for 34 yards. One came on third-and-14 on a screen pass from Tyler Russell and gave the Bulldogs a first down.
“By the end of the game, I felt just as strong as the beginning of the game, and that’s usually with how competitive and physical this game was,” Perkins said. “That tells me my ankle is fine and I can stop thinking about it in the back of my mind.”
Perkins was paired with junior tailback Nick Griffin to start the game. Without a designated fullback on the roster for the first time since Mullen took over the program, Griffin’s size, speed, and experience presents an added concern. It was the first time Perkins was in the same backfield as Griffin and freshman Ashton Shumpert.
“I can say it felt good when those guys came in the game no matter who got the football,” Perkins said. “When we’re rotating touches and playing time like that, it makes us even more dangerous as a running team.”
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.