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MSU's Perkins is SEC's unlikely leading rusher

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STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP)

(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)By DAVID BRANDTAP Sports Writer

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.''

Now Perkins gets to test his running skills against arguably the best defense in college football. Alabama is giving up just 195.6 total yards per game, including just 58.7 yards on the ground. Both numbers lead the SEC by a wide margin.

The Crimson Tide hasn't given up 100 yards rushing to a team this season - much less one person.

But Perkins is optimistic. He said quarterback Tyler Russell's emergence has helped open running room all season. Russell is fifth in the SEC in passing with 224.7 yards per game and has thrown 15 touchdowns.

''I feel like we have a great chance to run the ball, because I know we can throw the ball well too, so that's going to open things up for us,'' Perkins said.

Perkins won't necessarily have to face the Alabama defense alone. Backup running backs Derrick Milton, Josh Robinson and Nick Griffin also all had good moments in various roles, while backup quarterback Dak Prescott has rushed for three touchdowns this season in goal-line situations.

''They've got a really good scheme that they run the ball with, and lots of multiples in terms of how they present it, how they try to confuse defensive players,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

But trickery alone probably won't beat Alabama. The Bulldogs are going to need a few big plays - and Perkins is one of the most likely candidates to make one happen.

He showed his big-play ability last week with a 64-yard touchdown run against Middle Tennessee that helped turn a close game into a 45-3 victory.

''A guy my size, it's hard to get a good lick on me because I'm low to the ground and pretty shifty,'' Perkins said. ''If they hit me hard, they hit me hard, but I don't look at it like that. I just make sure I follow my block, stay behind the offensive line and good things will happen.''

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AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this story.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

Tagged: Vick Ballard, Alabama, Mississippi State, LaDarius Perkins

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