Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze says the Rebels have to run the ball against Missouri to be successful. So, the Rebels’ running game has improved, but how much has it improved?
It was OK against Texas A&M, better in spurts, totaling 133 yards against a bad defense. It was better against LSU, a fair defense, finishing with 176 yards. The Rebels were good against Idaho with 292 yards, not so good against Arkansas, averaging just 2.71 yards per carry against the Hogs, and it was good again against Troy with 382.
This week LSU is 10th in the league in run defense, Arkansas is 11th, Missouri is No. 2, giving up 111.9 yards a game and 3.3 yards per carry. In conference games Missouri is still strong, 109.3 yards a game, 3.1 yards per carry against the SEC, good for second in the league.
This is why it was so important for the Rebels to get Jeff Scott back last week, not because they don’t have capable backs without him. We’re seeing now the depth and talent we talked about at this position back in August. The depth and talent then were also inexperienced, but Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers have developed into the backs I thought they’d be, and they’ll get better. Scott, though, brings that special outside burst. It was important to get him some touches and to get him into a rhythm going into this Missouri game. If he only breaks one big run on the outside that could be the difference in the game. In Scott’s own words last week it was “huge” to get on the field against Troy.
Games against Idaho and Troy have contributed to a huge gap for Ole Miss in the SEC rushing statistics. In all games, the Rebels are fifth in the league with 200.6 yards a game. Against SEC competition the Rebels are 12th with 131.3 yards a game.
With the run game not working well at Auburn and Scott injured against A&M then missing the next three games, Scott had carried only 10 times in five games leading up to Troy. Still, he remains the team’s leading rusher with 488 yards and two touchdowns on 64 carries.
Think of the ebb and flow of the run game with Ole Miss this season. It was good with Scott on the edge in the first three games. Then teams – starting with Alabama – began to take that away. Ole Miss responded with better power running from Walton and Mathers. So teams have to respect Ole Miss on the inside now, and I think you’re going to see Scott with a chance to break off a long run on the outside against Missouri.