OXFORD – Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze isn’t expecting any miracles from his running game against No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.
Instead, a few “dirty yards” will do.
“We have to find a way to get some dirty yards, and I think we can,” Freeze said. “I believe in our guys that we can. But if you think we’re going to line up and rush for 300 yards against this team, that doesn’t happen.
“We need to do it enough to really stay balanced.”
The 19th-ranked Rebels (1-1) are confident they can beat the Crimson Tide (2-0), and rightfully so. Ole Miss has won two in a row in the series – 23-17 in Oxford in 2014 and 43-37 in Tuscaloosa last season.
In both those games, Ole Miss had less than 100 yards rushing, relying on an effective passing game and Alabama turnovers to pull off the upset victories. Freeze indicated a similar formula will be needed on Saturday, with the Rebels calling just enough run plays to keep Alabama honest.
It’s hard to see how Ole Miss will have much success on the ground.
Alabama has given up 87 yards rushing through two games and opponents are averaging just 1.7 yards per carry. Both numbers are tops in the Southeastern Conference.
On the other side, the Rebels haven’t impressed anyone with their running game. They’ve averaged just 120.5 yards rushing through two games – including one against FCS-level Wofford – which ranks 12th out of the 14-team SEC.
Two of the team’s top three running backs are out. Junior Jordan Wilkins was ruled academically ineligible before the season began and freshman Eric Swinney tore knee ligaments in his first carry against Florida State on Sept. 5.
That leaves the job to senior Akeem Judd, junior Eugene Brazley and freshman D'Vaughn Pennamon. The 5-foot-11, 228-pound Judd leads the team with 108 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Some of the running might be left to quarterback Chad Kelly. The senior hasn’t run much so far this season, but was second on the team with 500 yards rushing in 2015.
He said the ability to scramble is still a major part of his game.
“Sometimes the play isn’t going to open up downfield,” Kelly said. “The defense might do a good job on a play and everything is covered. You’ve got to use your feet, improvise. If it’s not there just get down and slide.”
Alabama safety Eddie Jackson says Kelly’s ability to run – or even the illusion that he will run – can create problems. He added the Crimson Tide must be mindful of what the Rebels really want to do– create big plays in the vertical passing game.
“As a secondary, he can suck you up to the line of scrimmage and throw the ball over your head,” Jackson said. “You really have to have your eyes in the right spot.”
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this story.
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