"Yeah, I've been hearing about that a good bit lately," Perkins said. "About the Gator Bowl from a couple of years ago. The biggest thing I hear about is when the guy caught me from behind!"
‘That guy' being James Rogers, a name even Perkins can't recall two years later. All he needs remember is how the Wolverine had just enough angle and acceleration to catch Perkins at the seven-yard line. Perkins had been the hot-route option on the first-down play from Mississippi State's 12-yard line, and when quarterback Chris Relf saw pressure he found his halfback drifting just beyond the line of scrimmage.
Perkins turned it into an 81-yard reception scamper down the right side, only dragged down a couple of strides short of the end zone. "I don't want to talk about that, but that's the biggest thing I hear about!" he says now. Though he is glad to discuss another aspect of that catch-and-go, when an unwary Wolverine who thought he was going to make the stop got planted by a Bulldog receiver running interference. "Yeah, that was a great block by Brandon Heavens."
It was a great New Years Day 2011 all-around for Mississippi State with the 52-14 blowout of Michigan; and a fine afternoon for then-freshman Perkins with his 99 net yards as the backup back. Now, two seasons later, he makes another appearance on EverBank Field. This time though it will be as Mississippi State's starter.
And, as a Dog on multiple missions.
First and foremost of course is completing State's season with a ninth victory, which coincidentally would match that 2010 team's finish after their own Gator Bowl. Over a score of Bulldogs who participated in that win are back in Jacksonville this holiday season, as well as making a third-straight bowl trip. With a win they would re-write program history, too, scoring a three-year postseason streak.
Then there is just the general good feeling that concluding any season successfully brings, not to mention easing some of the sting from those November setbacks. Still, "I feel like we did pretty well," Perkins said. "Overall we had a great season, we're 8-4 and we're going bowling. That's great."
At the same time Perkins is close to achieving a degree of personal greatness. Only eight Bulldogs have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, eleven total times. With a typical 2012 sort of game Perkins will join that elite roster. "Yeah, we're getting close to that," said Perkins.
"My total is like 940-something so I know I can get 1000, running behind Tobias Smith and the rest of the offensive line. They promised me I would get to 1,000 yards this season!" That isn't merely a back having fun with his blockers by the way; Smith and Co. did make that vow, the senior guard has affirmed.
Thing is, if not for a November muscle pull Perkins might already have topped the 1K milestone. Or at least he would be that much closer had he not sat out the entire LSU game. The lowest output of the junior season was 38 yards, at Alabama. The injury wasn't serious as a 91-yard effort the next week against Arkansas showed.
So 1,000 yards appears well within Perkins' range next week. Yet what might matter more in the bigger Bulldog picture is a figure one magnitude lower. It is not coincidence that when State's offense rushes for triple digits this season, the team wins. In all four losses the rushing hasn't reached 100 yards. OK, it is just a number…but a meaningful one for Dog game-planning. This offense must gain ground on the ground, whether grinding it out or on big breaks, for the team to succeed.
"I think we're going to focus on it a good bit," said Perkins. "Because we weren't able to run the ball too much the last few games. But we're not going to let that get to us. We know we can run the ball, I have confidence in my offensive line, I feel they can get the job done. And we should be able to run the ball pretty well against Northwestern."
This is no slight on the Wildcat defense by the way. Northwestern was the third-best rushing defense in a Big Ten conference which knows something about ground-pounding. The 122 yards allowed was also 18th-best in the NCAA this regular season, which merits real respect from any league. Perkins has been impressed over the course of his own December scouting.
"I would say probably their physical play," he gave as his shortest summary of what to expect. "I think pretty much all teams in the Big Ten are physical, and they're big, too. But I don't think they're that fast." This has to be understood in relative terms remember…and as Perkins can personally attest he knows how it feels to be run-down, from behind, by a Big Ten defender. So this Dog isn't arrogant at all in comparing the relative athleticism of the leagues.
"Northwestern makes plays all over the field, offense and defense, but I just feel in the SEC it's totally different and everybody is flying around to the ball. Especially on defense." Which is difficult for the staunchest Big Tenner to dispute, though many surely will as part of the entertaining and annual give-and-take that such bowl games inspire. It is just part of the post-season fun, as long as Perkins and partners don't take anything for granted in the matchup.
"I feel the SEC is the best conference in the world, to me. But the Big Ten, that's a great conference also. But I feel the SEC is better and stronger. Not taking anything from the Big Ten, that's just what I feel."
He certainly will have his chance to back up the feelings with on-field feats, especially as Northwestern's defensive scheming will begin—as it should be—with stopping the Bulldog ground game. Which means stopping Perkins first, though contributions from younger backs Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton can be counted on.
For that matter Mississippi State has looked increasingly to the run-option with quarterbacks Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott in the last month of the schedule. True, it is the air attack which has headlined most of the 2012 statistics based on Russell's record-setting passing and a receiver corps that has helped the quarterback set standards. Yet it all begins with ability to advance the ball via rushing, and it is #27 who expects to carry the load once again.
Besides, New Years Day isn't just the end of one Mississippi State season; it marks the start of Perkins' senior season when he can take a run at more records.
"For my personal goals I feel I did OK. I feel I could have done some things differently, I could have changed the outcome of some games on my part. But that's why I have another year to come back and get better at those things and just try to improve on the things I need to. And be a better leader, too."
Oh, and to end locker room reminders of ‘hey, remember how Perk got caught that day?' that he's rather weary of hearing lately. "But I made some big plays in that game," he reminds. "And hopefully that carries over to this year, also."