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MSU's Perkins is SEC's unlikely leading rusher

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MSU's Perkins is SEC's unlikely leading rusher

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) 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

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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