OXFORD, Miss. — With the hire of offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez during the off-season, the Rebels will be moving to a more run-heavy offense than in recent memory. Coach Rod will still spread the field with receivers, but there will be a greater emphasis on establishing the run game and controlling the clock. In this piece, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the personnel in Ole Miss’ running back room.
Currently, the Rebels have four players returning at running back: senior Scottie Phillips, junior D’Vaughn Pennamon, sophomore Isaiah Woullard, and sophomore Tylan Knight.
Depth at running back was an issue last year. Phillips was outstanding the first 9 games, rushing for 923 yards and 12 touchdowns, but after he went down early against Texas A&M, the Rebels’ rushing attack suffered. Developing depth behind Phillips was a huge priority for Ole Miss during the offseason, and it appears that has been accomplished.
Newcomers Ealy and Conner join the Rebels
Ole Miss running backs coach Derrick Nix signed two backs in the class of 2019 — Jerrion Ealy out of Jackson Prep and Snoop Conner out of Hattiesburg — to bring the running back room to six scholarship players.
Conner early enrolled back in January and participated in spring practices. The 5’10” 216 pound running back was the MVP of the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game before arriving in Oxford. In the Grove Bowl, Conner looked powerful, breaking several impressive runs. He could potentially provide valuable reps at running back this fall for the Rebels in certain situations if they decide not to redshirt the talented back.
However, the Rebels might be able to save Conner’s redshirt year because of the addition of five-star running back Jerrion Ealy. The 5’10 200 pound back out of Jackson Prep recently announced he would indeed enroll at Ole Miss and forgo the 2019 MLB Draft. As of now, all reports indicate Ealy will play both football and baseball at Ole Miss. He was named the MVP of the Under Armor All-American game for football and also competed in the UA All-American game in baseball.
Ealy has the ability to instantly become the No. 2 guy at running back for the Rebels. As a senior at Prep, he dominated the competition by rushing for 1,526 yards, at 8.9 yards per carry, and 24 touchdowns on the ground. On his way to earning MVP honors at the UA All-American game, playing with and against some of the top talent in the nation, Ealy set the record for most rushing yards with 119 yards, at 7.44 yards per carry, and two touchdowns.
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Even against players of similar talent, Ealy was able to dominate on the gridiron. We would be shocked if he does not see some significant playing time with Phillips this season.
Phillips is without a doubt the starting running back for the Rebels after rushing for almost a thousand yards in his first season with Ole Miss. In 2018, the 5’8” 211-pound back rushed for 928 yards, at 6.1 yards per carry, and 12 touchdowns and would have eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark had he not been injured at the end of the season.
Phillips is a senior with a steady hand and a year of SEC experience under his belt. It is likely Coach Rod and Coach Nix will use both Ealy and Phillips to help keep each fresh for the entire season. If you look at teams like Alabama, LSU, and Georgia, you notice that all these teams who run the ball effectively usually have a one-two combo at running back, with each getting roughly the same amount of snaps every game. Sure, one back might get more carries on a given night over the other—depending on whoever is hitting the holes in the offensive line the best in that particular game. But either way, the Rebels should be in great hands this fall with Phillips and Ealy providing a terrific one-two punch at running back.
Pennamon, Woullard, and Knight
And let’s not forget about Pennamon, Woullard, and Knight.
Knight at 5’6” 173 pounds is the smallest running back on the roster but provides an explosive option out of the backfield and can lineup in multiple different spots. Knight will be used in the passing game in the slot as well as out of the backfield. It’ll be interesting to see how his versatility will be utilized throughout the football season.
Pennamon (aka “Blue”) is one of the bigger running backs on the roster at 5’11” 216 pounds. He has had a difficult time thus far with injuries over the course of his career at Ole Miss. A four-star recruit in the 2016 signing class, he suffered a dislocated kneecap his sophomore season against Texas A&M in November, 2017. He was not cleared for full contact when he returned in 2018; however, Pennamon is a full go now and during the Grove Bowl showed some bounce in his step.
The 5’9” 198 pound Woullard rushed for 428 yards, at 5.1 yards per carry, and four touchdowns last season. He may maintain about the same number of carries this fall since the running game will be an even stronger point of emphasis in Coach Rod’s offense. Woullard could also be a part of the rotation that will help keep the backs fresher throughout the games and grueling SEC West schedule.
All-in-all, the Rebels’ running back room is among the strongest in recent memory. Ole Miss fans have a lot to look forward to this fall with perhaps one of the best running back rooms in the SEC.
Returners Scottie Phillips, D’Vaughn Pennamon, Isaiah Woullard and Tylan Knight will be joined by two of the top newcomers in Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy, making this perhaps the deepest unit on the team.