Ole Miss running back room in great hands with Evans, Bentley IV and Judkins
OXFORD, Miss. — The Rebel ground game of 2022 looks to be in great hands. The Ole Miss offense racked up a total of 433 yards in the Rebs’ 28-10 win over Troy Saturday, 266 of which came from rushing yards. Three of the four Rebel touchdowns came on the ground.
Ole Miss’ leading rusher against the Trojans was Zach Evans, who made his debut Saturday for the red and blue. He totaled 130 yards on 29 attempts, averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
I’ve watched Ole Miss RB Zach Evans for three years now and he’s in the best shape of his playing career. If he can stay healthy he’ll be among the top 5 best backs in the country. pic.twitter.com/Iii1DmCzFG
— Kevin (@Daboys_22) September 4, 2022
The highlight of the game for Evans was a 46-yard run in the first quarter that took the Ole Miss offense down to the Troy 20-yard-line and led to a Ulysses Bentley IV rushing touchdown, five plays later.
Quinshon Judkins certainly had an impressive debut as the true freshman ran for 87 yards on 14 attempts, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
“Those guys looked really special, all three running backs. He (Judkins) ran angry today, he’s a special freshman.“
Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin on Evans, Bentley IV, and Judkins
On the day, Evans led all running backs with 36 snaps played. He was followed by Judkins who played 22. While Bentley IV only played 14 total snaps and accumulated five yards on two carries, he definitely supplied production with his touchdown, a score in which he astutely kept playing until the whistle blew.
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) September 3, 2022
Replacing last year’s production
The loss of production from the running game from a season ago is well-documented, as Ole Miss lost running backs Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner, and Henry Parrish, Jr.
Replacing a team’s top four rushers is never easy. In addition to the three above, Matt Corral, a quarterback, was third on the team in rushing with over 600 yards.
Against Troy Saturday, Ole Miss transfer quarterback Jaxson Dart rushed for 40 yards on three carries, with his longest run coming in at 36 yards. He showed the ability to do more than enough running the ball. In all honesty, I’m sure head coach Lane Kiffin is happy if his quarterback does not lead the team in carries, whether the QB is Dart or Luke Altmyer. Sophomore Altmyer will start the upcoming game against Central Arkansas.
Transfer portal prowess with the addition of freshman phenom
It’s been well documented how Coach Kiffin and his staff took advantage of the transfer portal, picking up players who give the running back room a chance to be even better than last year’s attack — and last year, the Rebels’ led the SEC in rushing.
Evans, a TCU transfer, and Bentley IV, hailing from SMU, bring experience that is hard to come by. Without the transfer portal, the running game would look a lot different this season. Evans and Bentley not only have experience, but excellent ability, making them a key component of the Ole Miss offense.
After the game Saturday, Evans talked about the talent in the running back room.
“Like I said, we’re a loaded backfield. Obviously, if the load comes my way, I will take it, no doubt about that. I love to share with the boys back there. We’re coming in with hard work. We’re coming out in 98-degree heat sometimes. Sometimes all of us are having full-body cramps out there. We’re putting blood, sweat, and tears into this game. I love for them to go crazy.“
Ole Miss RB Zach Evans
In Judkins, the rushing attack adds a piece that has no previous college experience — but you sure couldn’t tell he wasn’t a seasoned veteran. He played his first college game on Saturday and looked like he had been there before.
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) September 3, 2022
Physically, Judkins looks the part. Most freshmen need a year or sometimes more to get used to playing college football, especially with the top-tier size and speed of SEC opponents. With Judkins, that does not appear to be the case.
Although Troy is not in the SEC, there should be no doubt Judkins will be able to more than hold his own once October 1st rolls around and Kentucky comes to Oxford.
Evans commented on the work the unit will continue to put in.
“We did good as a whole. We could do better. It’s a lot that we need to work on – a lot that I need to work on personally, like explosions, finishing runs, ball security most definitely. That’s my number one. I’ll get the program down and get going on it.“
The combination of speed and power was evident Saturday as Evans had four carries that went for ten or more yards, while Judkins added three of his own.
Evans and Judkins combined to force Troy into 17 missed tackles. Of their combined 217 rushing yards, 123 of those came after contact. Though a smaller sample size, nine of Bentley IV’s five yards came after contact and you can look for more of that in the future.
It will be exciting to continue to watch the evolution of the Rebels’ rushing game as this is just the beginning.
Once the quarterback situation is settled, be ready to watch the Ole Miss offense sling and pound the rock with the best of them.
(Feature images credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss; Graphic credit: Nick Filipich, The Rebel Walk)
Nick Filipich was born and raised in Biloxi, MS. He is an Ole Miss alum with a degree in Sports and Recreation Administration. A sports junkie with a great passion for all things Ole Miss, Nick played baseball and football in high school — which is where he discovered his love for sports. He is an avid Braves and Saints fan, and in his free time enjoys spending time with family, friends and his black lab, Dixie.