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Running Game is Key For Mississippi State Bulldogs in 2013

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

After playing in three consecutive bowl games, Mississippi State Bulldog fans are ready for the team to take the next step forward. But, if the Dawgs are going to win 10 games for the first time since 1999, they must run the ball effectively.

Make no mistake about it, the passing game will be the weapon of choice for Dan Mullen’s offense this fall. And why shouldn’t it be? Tyler Russell did well in his first season as a full-time starter, throwing for over 2,800 yards and finishing with a very respectable 24/10 TD to INT ratio. Despite losing 64 percent of its receptions and 70 percent of the team’s receiving yards, the Bulldog receiving corps should be just fine this fall thanks to the emergence of JUCO transfer Jeremy Chappelle.

With that said, it’s the Bulldog ground game that will determine the success or failure of the 2013 campaign.

A closer look at the numbers will bear this out.

The running game was an instrumental part of why Mississippi State jumped out to a 7-0 start last season. During that time, the Bulldogs ran for 181 yards per game and ranked fourth in the SEC with 36.71 points per contest.

Unfortunately, the second half of the season was a completely different story. MSU’s ground game couldn’t run the ball to save its life in its four conference losses against the Alabama Crimson Tide, Texas A&M Aggies, LSU Tigers and Ole Miss Rebels. In that span, the Dawgs failed to crack the 100-yard barrier and managed a paltry 2.2 yards per carry.

Things have been this way throughout Mullen’s successful tenure in Starkville. Since 2010, Mississippi State is 21-2 when it averages more than four yards per carry, and just 3-13 when it doesn’t.

So what will the Bulldogs’ ground attack look like this fall?

In all honestly, the running game should be the best that MSU has had since Mullen arrived. The offensive line returns four starters—including All-American candidate Gabe Jackson—from a unit that paved the way for 4.4 yards per carry last season. With another year of seasoning, they’ll have no trouble opening up huge holes for LaDarius Perkins, who ran for 1,024 yards (5.0 YPC) in his first season as a starter.

Will this solid, if not spectacular, unit be enough to carry MSU to a 10-win season?

We’ll find out on Aug. 31 when the Bulldogs take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Reliant Stadium in Houston. While Mike Gundy’s team is better known for its high-octane offense, it’s worth noting that OSU finished third in the Big 12 in rushing defense last year.

A stellar performance against a legitimate top 15 opponent certainly would set the tone for the entire season.

Terry Johnson is a college football writer for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and/or Google+