Mississippi State's Shumpert takes over at running back

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State must find a way to replace more than 1,200 yards rushing now that former starting running back Josh Robinson is in the NFL.

That might scare some programs.

The Bulldogs aren't one of them.

The reason for that confidence is simple: Mississippi State has consistently had fantastic running backs during coach Dan Mullen's seven-year tenure. From Anthony Dixon to Vick Ballard to LaDarius Perkins and finally Robinson, the Bulldogs have always been able to move the ball on the ground.

Now it's Ashton Shumpert's turn.

The 6-foot-2, 218-pound junior is listed as the team's starter going into Saturday's road game against Southern Mississippi. He's waited patiently for this opportunity, running for 274 yards and two touchdowns last season and 190 yards as a freshman in 2013.

Now he's looking forward to being the next great running back on Mississippi State's offense.

''They've all been good, so I have no choice but to be great,'' Shumpert said. ''I just put a lot on my shoulders. We're trying to accomplish stuff this season that's going to overshadow what we did last season.''

Junior Brandon Holloway - a smaller, quicker option at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds - also returns after running for 294 yards and a touchdown last year. He's listed as Shumpert's backup, but in reality, plays a distinctly different role because of his different running style.

Mullen says both are ready for the increased workload.

Shumpert and Holloway ''have played a bunch of football,'' Mullen said. ''So that certainly helps them to understand reads, which helps in pass protections and those things.''

Shumpert will team with quarterback Dak Prescott - who is also an accomplished runner - in the backfield this fall. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Prescott ran for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, often using read-option plays with Robinson that opposing defenses had trouble stopping.

Mississippi State should have a deep backfield this season. Prescott said he's also been impressed with redshirt freshmen Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams, who are big backs like Shumpert.

''Shumpert will probably lead them, but any of those guys can jump in there, and it will be exciting,'' Prescott said. ''The whole team knows that they can make plays.''

Mississippi State needs the running game to be productive quickly. The Bulldogs are big favorites against Southern Miss this weekend, but then must host a bruising LSU defense on Sept. 12 in what is almost always a physical, ground-based matchup.

Mullen is cautiously optimistic the Bulldogs will be ready.

''I have been pretty pleased with the physicality of our running backs and how we have been running the ball,'' Mullen said. ''That is something to me that when we have some bigger backs, we have to play really physical.''

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

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