Rebels show they’re more than the NWO

Published 7:50 am Wednesday, September 5, 2018

OXFORD (AP) — Ole Miss coach Matt Luke never seemed overly concerned about rebuilding his team’s running game during the offseason, even though the Rebels were losing 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Wilkins.

Turns out his confidence was justified.

The Rebels did a lot of things right during their convincing 47-27 win over Texas Tech on Saturday in Houston, but it was the emergence of junior running back Scottie Phillips that was arguably the most unexpected success story.

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Phillips ran for 204 yards — a record for an Ole Miss running back in his debut — and scored two touchdowns, giving the Rebels some balance to complement quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and an elite group of receivers.

Phillips was named the Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week for his performance, and Luke said Phillips had shown signs of being a quality running back.

“The word I’ve been using is cautiously optimistic, because I’ve seen a lot of really, really good things in the spring and in fall camp, but it was good to see him,” Luke said after Saturday’s game. “He has short, quick bursts, but he also has the breakaway speed that he can finish it when he breaks the line so really, really pleased to him have some success.”

Ole Miss’ much-celebrated receiving trio of A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge and Metcalf was as good as advertised on Saturday, combining to catch 17 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns.

Now add Phillips — and the quality decision-marking of Ta’amu — and these Rebels could be a dangerous team during Southeastern Conference play, even if they’re ineligible to win the league’s championship because of NCAA sanctions.

“It really was about Jordan Ta’amu making good decisions about where to go with the football,” Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo said Monday. “And sometimes that means handing it off. Scottie did a good job with his 16 carries.”

Longo’s praise for Phillips is a bit of an understatement. The 5-foot-11, 211-pound Phillips averaged more than 12 yards per carry and scored on runs of 39 and 65 yards.

Ole Miss (1-0) hosts Southern Illinois (1-0) on Saturday, giving them one more game to fine tune the offense before No. 1 Alabama comes to Oxford on Sept. 15.

“There are several things we have to work on getting better. I really want to approach it that way, where we focus on us and make sure we hold ourselves to a standard,” Luke said. “There are a lot of things we need to get fixed, and I think we need to approach it that way.”

The Rebels were also pleased by Ta’amu’s continued success on Saturday. The senior was 22-of-32 passing for 336 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Red Raiders.

Longo said Ta’amu wasn’t perfect, but provides the maturity and consistency the Rebels need to win.

“One of his best assets is his ability to focus on just each individual play,” Longo said. “He has a bad day yesterday, it’s not affecting today. He has a bad play on first down, it doesn’t affect second down.”

One of the few dour notes coming out of Week 1 was the loss of junior kick returner Jaylon Jones to a torn ACL. He will miss the rest of the season.

Jones returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown against Texas Tech.

• Saturday, 3 p.m.
• TV: SEC Alternate Channel
• Radio: 1490 AM/107.7 FM