Jordan Wilkins sparks Rebels’ ground game against Vanderbilt
OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo was pleased with what he saw from the Rebels’ running backs Saturday in the 57-35 win over Vanderbilt, especially the performance of senior Jordan Wilkins.
Although quarterback Shea Patterson and the Ole Miss passing offense are statistically among the best in the nation, Longo has made it a priority to try and establish a running game. The Rebels (3-3, 1-2 SEC) have a number of talented backs on the roster, but it is senior running back Jordan Wilkins who leads the pack.
“A back like Jordan…the more you feed him the ball, the better he gets,” Longo said.
Rebels’ ground game shines against Commodores
Against Alabama, Wilkins rushed for 101 yards on 12 carries. The following week against Auburn, the Cordova, Tennessee native rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
Then Saturday night, Wilkins rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in the victory over the Commodores (3-4, 0-4).
As a team, the Rebels ran for 252 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries. Patterson and Eric Swinney had the other two rushing scores. Swinney rushed for 76 yards on seven carries.
After the win—and his team’s best rushing performance thus far this season—Longo explained to what he attributes the improvement.
“The biggest difference today was the belief in our tempo going into the game—the belief in the knowledge that we have the ability and the scheme to win the ballgame. I thought we played with confidence for four quarters. That’s what we told them we wanted. That’s what we expected, and that’s what we got today.”
Coach Phil Longo
Despite a tough, three-game road trip that ended with three losses—albeit to some very good teams–Wilkins and the Rebels have remained upbeat.
Even after his team only mustered three points against No. 1 Alabama two weeks ago, head coach Matt Luke told players to stay confident. And after a strong second-half showing against Auburn last weekend that saw the Rebels outscore the Tigers 20-9 in the second half, Luke was hopeful his team would take that same effort into the game against Vanderbilt.
He was not disappointed.
That effort was obvious Saturday—especially in the running of Wilkins, as he gashed through the middle for 16 yards on Ole Miss’ first scoring drive.
Longo: ‘As he gets the ball more, the better he gets’
Wilkins would have more big runs in the game, including jaunts of 15 and 18 yards on two additional scoring drives. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry and had the Commodores’ defense second guessing itself as to what type of play the Rebels would run next.
“I feel like our O-line has been doing a really good job making holes, getting me out in space,” Wilkins said Saturday night. “I’m just trying to capitalize on it and do the most I can with it.”
Longo believes the best way to make sure Wilkins is comfortable is to get him as many touches as possible. With Wilkins’ knee back to 100 percent following an early-season injury, he is able to maneuver in and out of traffic as he pleases and appears confident each time he has the ball.
“As he gets the ball more, the better he gets,” Longo said of Wilkins.
“It’s like anything else—it just becomes a little more instinctive. He’s hitting holes better. He has more confidence. He’s healthier. He’s running people over when he needs to. He has the ability to run by you. So, yeah, I think Jordan is heating up. I also think the improvement upfront has helped our run game as a whole.”
(Feature image credit: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)
Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men’s basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.