OXFORD

Ole Miss running back Scottie Phillips may or may not play Saturday against New Mexico State.

Frankly, it’s probably better for Phillips if he does not.

He’s left back to back games against Texas A&M and Auburn with a knee injury first, then an ankle injury. The demands of the season are showing.

Last year there was a big drop in talent level when Phillips missed most or all of three November games with a severely sprained ankle. He narrowly missed 1,000 rushing yards having been on pace for around 1,200.

The talent level is different now, and Phillips is used differently.

Whoever gets the carries against New Mexico State stands the chance to have a big day. Most teams have successfully executed their schemes. Washington State ran for only 111 yards in the season opener but passed for 507.

The Aggies have given up more than 300 rushing yards three times. They’ve given up 755 yards and seven touchdowns in the last two games alone.

Ole Miss offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez has come under fire for an underperforming passing game.

One helps the other

The Rebels can’t be the offense they need to be until that is fixed. Even the best running teams have to function in the passing game.

Rodriguez, though, deserves credit for doing his thing right away with the Rebels.

Often new coaches find they don’t have the pieces to run the system they were hired to run. Rodriguez had a strong starting point with Phillips and has blended two freshman backs and a freshman quarterback to form what, this week, is the SEC’s top rushing offense.

Auburn held Ole Miss to 167 rushing yards last week, the first SEC team to hold the Rebels below 200.

In 2019 the 200-yard rushing game has become last year’s 370-yard passing game – something the Rebels achieved seven times.

The inability to run the ball in the red zone was a sticking point last year. In that regard the Rebels have improved though the percentage of red zone touchdowns is only slightly higher – 52 percent right now to last year’s 50 percent – and the number of red zone opportunities were more last season.

Fans complain about play-calling this year. That’s a redundant statement because fans complain about play-calling every year.

Rodriguez calls the plays and runs the ball 61 percent of the time right now. In his last two seasons at Arizona he ran it 67.5 percent and 62.4 percent. In 2015 he ran it 53 percent of the time, in 2014 50.1 percent. Those seasons support his statement that he’ll call plays to his team’s strength.

Running or throwing doesn’t really matter. The reality is you have to be competent at both, or the better defenses will adjust and slow you down.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. Find more in the Facebook Group Ole Miss Discussion w/ Parrish Alford.

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