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Ole Miss RB Scottie Phillips is dominating... and not getting the ball enough

The JUCO transfer has been one of the SEC’s best backs this season.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Before the year started, I wrote an article about how Eric Swinney and Scottie Phillips were vying for the starting running back job. I stated my case for why I thought Swinney should get the lion’s share of the carries this season. I totally cast Phillips aside, mostly because he was a junior college transfer.

Boy was that stupid.

Phillips has dominated on the ground, accumulating 723 yards through seven games. He has to average just 54 yards over the final five games to become the third Ole Miss back in the past decade to top the 1,000-yard mark. If he’s able to do that, the Rebels will have produced two different 1,000 yard backs in a row for the first time ever.

Sure, Phillips came roaring out of the gate with a 204 yard performance against Texas Tech, but while that’s an outlier it isn’t extreme. He’s averaging 6.7 yards per carry this season, the only SEC back with at least 75 carries to average over 6.0. Kentucky star Benny Snell, for reference, is averaging 5.5.

Phillips also has a strong offensive line paving the way for him. While the left side of the line (Greg Little and Javon Patterson) was a known commodity heading into the season, the right side (Ben Brown and Alex Givens) has proven competent as well, leading to a myriad of holes for Scottie to run through. Coupled with the run-pass option, he’s getting the ball in highly advantageous positions with great looks for good yardage.

But he isn’t getting enough of them. In the Rebels’ two losses to Alabama and LSU, Phillips carried a combined 28 times. He averaged a healthy 6.0-yards per carry in Baton Rouge but was handed to just 16 times on a rainy night in which the Ole Miss passing game couldn’t get on track. Phillips has yet to carry more than 19 times in a game.

Scottie Phillips game log

Opponent Carries Rush yards Yards/carry Rush TDs
Opponent Carries Rush yards Yards/carry Rush TDs
Texas Tech 16 204 12.75 2
Southern Ill. 15 107 7.13 2
Alabama 12 44 3.67 0
Kent St. 19 112 5.89 1
LSU 16 96 6 1
La.-Monroe 12 74 6.17 2
Arkansas 18 86 4.78 1

Maybe it’s a function of Jordan Ta’amu wanting to utilize his receivers more or Phil Longo leaning pass by design, but there aren’t a lot of pure runs for Phillips. I don’t want to give off the impression that I love designed runs that don’t have a passing option; often I hate them. They take away a huge option based on what the defense is showing and can lead to obvious downs where play calling is incredibly predictable. But designed runs can also be deadly when working. If a team gets to a point where it knows it can gain yardage on the ground reliably, the passing game is opened up even more for big plays.

The coaches know a ton more about football than I do, so it feels kind of silly to be talking about something I think they should do... but I’m going to do it anyway. Hopefully they’re able to lean on Phillips early this weekend to catch the Auburn secondary napping and hit for a few big plays through the air. If they become one dimensional again, I predict we’re going to see the same frustrating drives rear their ugly heads... and no one wants that.