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Isaiah Woullard gives Ole Miss hope with Scottie Phillips injured

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The former grayshirt has emerged as a solid backup running back. Can he take the reins if needed against Vandy?

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It seems to be coming more and more likely that Ole Miss Scottie Phillips will be limited our out completely against Vanderbilt. Matt Luke said Wednesday that Phillips, who leads the SEC in rushing touchdowns and ranks thirds in rushing yards, missed practice again with a sprained ankle and will be a game-time decision on Saturday.

Phillips is a critical piece of the Ole Miss offense. Writes Red Cup’s Jeff Gray:

Phillips made a made a name for himself early in the season by ripping off long touchdown runs, but it’s what he’s done between the highlight clips that’s been so meaningful for the Ole Miss offense. He’s gained at least five yards on 53 percent of his 192 carries this season, keeping Ta’amu out of long-yardage situations and forcing defenses to respect the run. Thanks in large part to Phillips’ consistency, the Rebels rank sixth nationally in offensive efficiency.

But the Ole Miss offense isn’t necessarily doomed if Phillips can’t go against Vanderbilt. For starters, just about anyone has been able to churn out rushing yards against the Commodore’s terrible run D this season. But the emergence of Isaiah Woullard also gives the Rebel ground game hope.

Woullard has emerged as a solid backup during his freshman season.

You’d think the all-time leading rusher in a state that produced Marcus Dupree and Cam Akers would get plenty of recruiting attention. But at just 5’9, 200-pounds, Woullard was rated a two-star prospect. The only offers he received outside of Ole Miss came from Southern Miss and Idaho.

But after gray-shirting last season, he’s emerged as the Rebels’ primary backup in 2018, wrestling that spot from former four-star Eric Swinney. He’s provided a solid compliment to Phillips, averaging 4.5 yards per carry while cashing in for four touchdowns.

He tallied a modest 64 yards on 16 carries after Phillips went down with a sprained ankle, but he showed enough to warrant optimism for the Vandy game.

He’s a downhill runner.

Woullard showed his burst early against A&M, finding the edge for a healthy gain to spark an Ole Miss touchdown drive.

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What’s best about this run is that there’s no tip-toeing. Once he found the edge, the diminutive Woullard got north-south in a hurry, bursting through an arm tackle for a nine-yard gain.

“You know how sometimes a running back just by his effort can be inspirational to the whole team,” Ole Miss running backs coach Derrick Nix told reporters this week. “I think that’s what he brings to the table. They see a guy that’s out there fighting for every inch, playing as hard as he can and just trying to go out there and make a difference.”

Woullard certainly isn’t afraid to lower the boom. Late in the second quarter he found himself outside with an unblocked Aggie defender. Rather than sprinting to the sideline, Woullard got north-south and dropped his shoulder.

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He is a patient runner, too.

On the following drive, Woullard found himself one-on-one with an Aggie defender on the outside. Woullard showed off his patience, hesitating enough for tight end Dawson Knox to get out and deliver a block.

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The Commodores are going to be aggressive on Saturday, bringing pressure and different looks in an attempt to confuse the young runner and trap him in the backfield. Running patient and not panicking will be key.

He’s got some wiggle, too.

With the game tied late in the third, Ole Miss found itself backed up near their own goal line. An Aggie blitz appeared to have Woullard dead-to-rights, but Woullard hits a couple of jump cuts to somehow escape.

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Woullard showed that small-space speed again and exploded to the third level for a big gain on first down. Avoiding negative plays and keeping his offense on schedule will go a long way toward a win in Nashville.

Phillips has been a remarkable addition to the offense and could be up for newcomer of the year in the SEC. But Woullard has the goods to fill in for him against Vandy. You can bet he’s ready to continue to prove the haters wrong in Smashville on Saturday.