Ole Miss has struggled to run the ball consistently for the better part of five years. There were flashes here and there in the Freeze era with Jeff Scott, a healthy Bo Wallace, Jaylen Walton, and some with Akeem Judd last season. But nothing ever matriculated week in and week out for a sustainable product.
After the hiring of Mike Leach homeboy and Air Raid disciple Phil Longo, there were rumblings that things would get even worse because MY NARRATIVE GRRRR PAC 12 STUFF NEVER WORKS but all of sudden, Ole Miss is staring at a rushing offense that is close to 130 yards per game, a new and improved Jordan Wilkins who is averaging six yards a tote and has found the end zone four times in the last five weeks.
So what the hell happened?
Jordan Wilkins’ vision is much improved.
At times earlier in the year, Wilkins would run into the butts of offensive guards and be stopped behind the line of scrimmage. Chalk that up to being out for a year on academic probation. Now, with an improving offensive line and an offense that is really hitting its stride, he is starting to see backside lanes and linebackers over-pursuing.
We see Kentucky here in your typical 4-3 front.
The play is your typical zone blocking scheme with an inside hand-off, but Jordan sees the pursuit cutting him off at the point of attack so he slips through the backdoor and damn near gets the first down. He plants that left foot hard into the Piggly Wiggly Field turf and gets up field in a hurry, carrying would-be tacklers with him.
Defenses are eager to stop the run against Ole Miss in order to force new starting quarterback Jordan Ta’amu to try and beat them, and the veteran back is taking advantage.
Finishing runs has become a thing.
The physicality, or lack thereof, has been a punchline this season. Backs have struggled to get a rhythm going and have been a non-factor for the offense. Not lately. Wilkins and the offensive line have been a symphony of sorts when it comes to working downhill and wearing down defenses late in ball games. Here we see that same 4-3 set by Kentucky with a safety walking up.
The run goes right into the blitz, but with the right guard and H-back pulling around to lead the way, he is quickly wiped out.
The play-side linebacker is picked up by Knox at the line of scrimmage and Daronte Bouldin chips the blitzing safety enough to get him out of the way then gets downfield to escort Wilkins for a first down run.
The run game has gotten better because of effort. The backs are running harder, the lineman are getting meaner, and the offense has become a well-oiled machine because of this newfound identity.
When life gives you a running game you also get a passing game.
Wilkins inflated confidence toting the rock has assisted Ta’amu’s transition from backup to starter as well. The run game is keeping folks honest and giving Phil Longo lots of new toys. Here, we see a running back bubble screen to the boundary. Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff.
The linebacker is late getting over and the safety is close to 10-yards away so we’re already cooking with grease here. Ta’amu delivers the ball on time and Wilkins is able to get up field for positive yards thanks to blocks from Knox, Damarkus Lodge, and Van Jefferson.
This is vintage Longo Ball. Chasing space and getting the ball to your playmakers in said space. And we also call this “erasing ligaments”. Wilkins has a one-on-one matchup with a corner and he doesn’t disappoint, shattering the poor kid’s dreams on national television by giving him a shimmy and a shake and getting the first down. We also see WRU doing the damn thing, blocking downfield.
The run game and the pass game working hand-in-hand. It’s truly a beautiful thing. Also, in case you forgot, the next play, Longo flipped the formation and faked the bubble screen and Ta’amu hit Jefferson down the seam for six.
Ah, yes, the immediate charade setup. It, too, is a beautiful thing.
Ole Miss’ run game has turned the tables.
The Landshark defense has been bad this year. It’s no secret. They’ve actually been in the top five of the wrong categories for the better part of two years now. One being “yards before contact”. Now Longo Ball is getting in on the action.
Granted it was just before the half and against a two-man front, but the Ole Miss offense has shown the ability to get downfield and finish runs multiple times since the Vanderbilt game. Here, a simple inside zone run leads to Jordan Wilkins getting a first down and not being touched until he gets there.
The guard pulls and Jordan beats the defensive end to the hole and gets up field in a hurry. The hole is gaping and the line is holding their man-on-man blocks to a T. With the defensive formation the Wildcats chose, it is once again a 2-on-1 situation for Ole Miss with Javon Patterson taking on a safety with Wilkins following close behind.
As we alluded to before, we see Wilkins dragging defenders to the first down line with Patterson and Rod Taylor providing the escort. Offensive line coach Jack Bicknell has preached “attitude” and “being nasty” to his crew and they are doing just that. They’re taking pride in removing the will of their opponents late in games and they are beginning to just lean on folks, opening things up for Ta’amu and Co. to spread it around and make Air Raid magic.
Ole Miss will be tested this weekend against the Texas A&M defense that is sitting at 58th nationally in S&P+ numbers and they even hung with Alabama for the better part of three quarters. John Chavis’ defenses are always fast and will always attack you from all angles. They are in fact susceptible to the run, giving up over 200 yards to the Tide and to Mississippi State so this could be a “somethings got to give” scenario here.
Although the run game is not option one for the Rebels, you can bet that Wilkins and the rest of the run game are going to take great pride in keeping this trend heading upwards. This in turn will once again open things up for the rest of the offense to get cooking through the air and take us to Shootout City. Which, in my opinion, is the only way the Rebs have a shot in either of these last two games.