OXFORD – Ole Miss running back Scottie Phillips narrowly missed 1,000 rushing yards last season as a first-year junior college transfer.
Five games into his senior season Phillips has fallen off that pace, but the Rebels’ production on the ground has risen.
Phillips, at 77.8 yards a game, ranks eighth among SEC individuals, while the Rebels are averaging 198.6 yards a game, sixth in the league and No. 45 nationally.
Phillips averaged 84.8 yards per carry last year, a figure that dropped from the low 100s at the end of the season when he suffered a severe ankle sprain.
Saturday night the Rebels face a Vanderbilt defense that is giving up 160.8 yards a game on the ground.
Ole Miss coaches in August spoke joyfully about the depth they believe they have behind Phillips this year, and that’s showed up in games.
“It’s more of running back by committee. They’re all staying fresh, being effective,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “It’s less of what Scottie is doing wrong and more about us wanting to get more people involved.”
Phillips averaged 3.9 yards per carry on seven carries for 27 yards at Alabama, and the Rebels still totaled 279 rushing yards, the most by an Alabama opponent in eight years.
The Rebels often had an all-freshman backfield with backs Jerrion Ealy and Jarod “Snoop” Conner split behind quarterback John Rhys Plumlee.
“Our hope is that all three, I’m talking about Snoop, Jerrion and Scottie, get an equal number of carries. They’ve all done some pretty good stuff,” offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez said.
Ealy, a five-star signee, is currently the Rebels’ second-leading rusher with 197 yards on 32 attempts. His 6.2-yards per carry average leads the team. He had a 30-yard run against Alabama.
He’s also the team’s second-leading receiver with eight catches.
“His role will continue to grow and grow. As he gets more in tune with our system and all that he’ll play multiple positions for him. He’s pretty dynamic,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez has called run plays 60.5 percent of the time this season including 65.9 percent against Alabama when the Rebels ran on 58 of 88 plays.
Only against California did the Rebels pass more than run.
Plumlee in only his second college appearance and first start rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Many were designed runs, some were scrambles.
Whether Plumlee makes a second-straight start at quarterback will be determined later this week. Redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Corral, who started the first four games, is still healing from bruised ribs sustained late against Cal.
“The plays we were running with John Rhys were the plays we’ve been running with everybody really since spring ball. He’s obviously got some dynamic running skills so we ran him more than we ran Matt previously,” Rodriguez said.