The Maneater

Veteran Perkins records first career sack in pivotal spot after starting against Tennessee

“You get nervous,” redshirt junior Ronnell Perkins said after starting in his second game of the season and making a crucial stop for Missouri.

MU redshirt junior Ronnell Perkins dives at the goal line for a tackle during Missouri's 50-17 win at Tennessee, Nov. 17, 2018. Perkins recorded his first career sack in the game.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Aside from the play that he’ll remember above all others in his college career, there’s one other moment Ronnell Perkins wants to talk about.

“I was supposed to read the tight end,” Perkins said. “If he blocks to the outside, I’m supposed to go outside. But he blocked out and I went inside. Coach was like, ‘Perk, you gotta go outside,’ but I was like, ‘I just want to get to the quarterback so bad.”

Perkins is a converted defensive back who plays a few snaps at linebacker per game. The redshirt junior is used on special teams more than defense for Missouri.

But for the second time in 11 games this season, Perkins was called on to start against Tennessee Saturday. He’s not used to starting, so he’s not used to post-game interviews either. The play he’s referring to reflected a certain lack of … oh, what’s the word again?

“Execution!” he said, after agonizing over it for several seconds.

Perkins’ blitz-loving spirit cost him proper execution on that one occasion, but others will remember that the instinct helped him execute one of the most important plays in a 50-17 win for the Tigers.

When Missouri led 13-7 in the second quarter after a go-ahead touchdown, Tennessee answered by driving into the red zone. Trying to retake the lead, the Volunteers were faced with a third-and-goal at the Missouri 2-yard line. Perkins had other ideas, reading a misdirection to perfection and outrunning Tennessee quarterback Keller Chryst to deal a 3-yard loss.

It was the first sack of Perkins’ college career.

“I really didn't even know it was a sack,” Perkins said. “I just saw him running and just ran after him.”

The end-around play was designed to block toward the left, but Chryst spun back and rolled right. Perkins recognized that the quarterback intended to scramble for the pylon and abandoned the swarm to engage in a one-on-one footrace.

“He can’t beat me to the end zone,” Perkins said. “It was a race. I had to get there and make a stop.”

The play protected Missouri’s then-fragile lead and forced Tennessee to kick a short field goal. The Tigers led 13-10. They would make it a two-possession game on the next possession en route to a rout.

As for Perkins, the play resonates in both its immediacy and impact above all others in his four years at MU.

“I was like, ‘Damn, I should have celebrated more,’” he said. “I didn’t know what to do, so I just kind of ran off.”

There is one other play Perkins will “always remember,” though. As it so happens, it was two years ago when Missouri last played Tennessee at Neyland Stadium.

Perkins started that contest as well, and on the second snap of the game, he overwhelmed Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara for a 2-yard loss. His quickness on the blitz right at the beginning of a road game is what makes the moment stand out, he said, but it doesn’t help that the defense ultimately surrendered 63 points in a loss.

So does Tennessee tackle 2.0 replace that as his fondest memory?

“This tops it, because we won,” he said. “This tops anything.”

And it helps that the sack was a key reason as to why Missouri won. Perkins got the start over Brandon Lee, who has been banged up at practice this week. It’s the same reason Perkins started at Purdue in week three. Being out there for the first snap of a game never loses its nerve-rattling effect for him, though, no matter how many times he does it.

“It’s kind of anxious!” Perkins said. “It’s like you’re loading up. You’re ready for whatever. You get nervous.”

Being called on to blitz takes the edge off, he said. That’s why Perkins had his two-year-old tackle in mind when he took the field as a starter in Knoxville again. That’s why he wanted to blitz so much that he went inside the tight end instead of out, even if it meant getting chewed out. That’s why he took off with a burst of impulse and speed to record his first sack in a pivotal moment.

That’s why the veteran, though rarely called on to start for Missouri, still embraces any role he’s given in his fourth season.

“I don't want nobody thinking I’m the backup that’s starting,” Perkins said. “I’m just the guy who comes in and does my job whenever they call my name.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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