By Parrish Alford
NASHVILLE – Ole Miss can rise from its recent offensive funk with a very simple solution.
Just run, baby.
A potent ground game is easier pondered than perfected, however. It’s something that escaped the Rebels in the last two games of the regular season – losses to then-No. 8 Missouri and to rival Mississippi State.
Ole Miss rushed for just 126 yards against Missouri, just 117 against MSU and for the last two games is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.
“For us it’s about being able to run the ball. The games we haven’t done well in are the games we didn’t run the ball well. I don’t think this one will be any different,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.
The Rebels – having scored just one offensive touchdown in their last two games – take on Georgia Tech on Monday afternoon at 2:15 in the Music City Bowl.
Ole Miss players gathered here Thursday night and will practice this afternoon at a local high school before attending an official welcome party downtown tonight.
The Yellow Jackets have limited opponents to 107 yards a game and 3.4 per carry.
The Ole Miss rushing game has dominated mediocre opponents, rushing for 272 yards against Southeast Missouri State, 292 against Idaho and 382 against Troy.
The Rebels rushed for 272 against a transition Texas defense in its first game under a new coordinator. Their best SEC game was 206 yards in the season opener at Vanderbilt, a figure that included Jeff Scott’s winning 75-yard run in the final minute.
When teams began to scheme against Scott’s speed on the perimeter, the Rebels’ production decreased.
Sophomores Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers have had some forward motion between the tackles, but on the whole little sustained success against the SEC.
Quarterback Bo Wallace says wrinkles are planned for the bowl game.
“We have a few new things coming in. I expect that to be back to where it was in the middle of the season,” he said. “Having Jeff back is going to help us.”
Scott has been limited by injuries over the back half of the season. He carried 11 times for 54 yards against Troy and appeared primed for the last two games but carried just three times against Missouri and did not travel to MSU.
Improving the run game has been a focal point of bowl preparation.
“We’re working hard to make sure we do the fundamentals on the track of the back, the quarterback reads, blocking the down linemen,” Freeze said.
Scott’s electrifying run at Vanderbilt got plenty of after-the-fact play on ESPN, which also televised the game live.
He rushed for a career-high 164 yards at Texas and also returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown.
He finished with 493 yards and was eventually replaced as the team rushing leader by Mathers, who gained 505 yards.
Scott’s home-run ability helped him lead the team with 7.4 yards per carry. Walton leads with six rushing touchdowns.
“I think our backs are maturing some and understanding,” Freeze said. “We’ve watched a lot of great cut-ups of teams that are doing it well. This has been like a mini-fall camp so you can get a lot done with the little things that we might not have paid as much attention to. That’s a lesson that I’ve learned.”