Wilkins Spearheads Ole Miss Rushing Attack
Oct. 14, 2017
By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. -- He was a bright spot, an unsung hero of sorts in a couple of stinging losses to Alabama and Auburn.
But this week Jordan Wilkins helped spearhead an offensive explosion for Ole Miss in its 57-35 rout of Vanderbilt and rejuvenated a once dormant Rebel running game with his 113 yards rushing and a touchdown. Ole Miss ran for 252 as a team, which is a season high by a lot.
"I feel like our offensive line has been doing a great job of opening up holes," Wilkins said. "I am just trying to capitalize and do the most that I can with it."
Wilkins ran with a purpose and physicality that wasn't seen often in the first couple of games this season, and it provided a semblance of balance in Phil Longo's offense.
"It's like anything else, it becomes instinctive," Longo said. "He is hitting holes better. He is more confident. He is healthier. He is running people over when when he needs to. Jordan is heating up and I think the improvement up front has helped as well."
It allowed Patterson to rev up the tempo and made the offense noticeably more fluid. The offense may not necessarily go as Wilkins goes, but it is certainly more effective when he is running well.
"It helps the offensive line tremendously because they do not have to play on their heels," head coach Matt Luke said. "I thought the tempo got going and it helped us. I thought our backs ran hard."
Wilkins got into a rhythm early on in the game despite having a 75-yard touchdown rush negated by a holding penalty. The senior back made a sharp jump cut on an 18-yard touchdown scamper early on. He had 82 yards in the first half alone. As the game wore, on Longo fed him more.
"The more you feed him the ball, the better he gets," Longo said. "It is becoming instinctive."
As Wilkins becomes more comfortable in Longo's system, the offense as a whole is flourishing.
"That was a focus for us was getting in a rhythm," Wilkins said. "We have got to carry that over to next week."
It helped Patterson and the receivers make plays on the perimeter. Vanderbilt was forced to commit more men to the run, which fed into the undisputed strength of Ole Miss which is the athleticism at receiver.
"When you are running the football well it is very hard not to come downhill and play the run game and take A.J. (Brown) away on the inside at the same time, or any of our guys really," Longo said. " The first time they came down hill he made them pay. It was good for us to see him get the ball off of the inside cut and take it."
As a result, Brown had 174 yards and two touchdowns.
"It is always good when we can run the ball," Brown said. "It opens up a lot of things. They come down there in the box and we throw the ball. That's basically it."
Luke thinks it has aided in Patterson's decision making because it takes the pressure off of the sophomore quarterback and lowers the temptation to force things.
"I think the balance we have shown the last two games helps him be more comfortable back there," Luke said. "I think it is going to get better."
There is evidence that as well. Patterson has gone back-to-back games without turning the ball over. Wilkins has rushed for 177 yards and two scores during that timeframe.
"When we run the ball well they can't drop seven or eight guys in coverage," Patterson said. "If you don't do that, we have the athletes on the outside to beat you."
Wilkins had 100 yards rushing in the loss to Alabama and is an embodiment of the perseverance this team has showed when things have not gone well. He was forced to sit out last season do to some misfortune, and has waited a long time to get back into game action.
He is certainly making his presence felt, and it is helping everyone else around him as well as helping Ole Miss win football games.
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