Unexpected difficulties in the running game have caused Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin to take a deeper look at his team early in the 2023 season.
For the past three seasons under Kiffin, the Rebels have finished among the top three rushing leaders in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), which has led to questions surrounding the team’s inability to move the ball effectively on the ground through two weeks.
So far, the team has rushed for a combined 267 yards — a 116-yard average per game — and four total touchdowns. All-American running back Quinshon Judkins has accounted for 108 yards and three scores while averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.
Ole Miss’ early struggle to pound the ball with Judkins, especially against nonconference opponents, has left Kiffin puzzled.
“I’m highly concerned,” Kiffin said of the run game during his weekly press conference. “That’s very unusual for us, not just here … From this job and Alabama, I don’t remember an inability to run the ball at all.”
Last season, Judkins emerged as one of the nation’s best running backs and amassed a conference-leading 1,567 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. However, his stats have fallen short of expectations so far in his current campaign.
While some may infer that Judkins, who was met consistently by defenders at the line of scrimmage during last week’s game against Tulane, is experiencing a sophomore slump, ESPN and SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic places the bulk of the blame on the Rebels’ offensive line.
Though the offensive line consists of four returning starters and viable transfer portal additions for depth, Cubelic argues that the problem has stemmed from a lack of cohesion within the unit.
“They’re not playing great football together. I think individually there are a couple of guys that have some good things at times, but they don’t seem to be all on the same page,” Cubelic said on SportsTalk Mississippi.
“There’s going to be an acclamation that comes with it. There is nothing wrong with Quinshon Judkins. They’re facing an overload of boxes and the offensive line is having a couple of letdowns here and there.”
The unit of big men is led by first-year offensive line coach and run game coordinator John Garrison, who came to Oxford after spending four seasons at North Carolina State.
While Ole Miss has experienced difficulty running the ball through two games, Kiffin insists that he will not abandon the ground game as it is a key part of his offensive philosophy.
“We believe in running the ball here,” Kiffin said. “Once you go that route, submitting to, ‘Hey we’re going to throw when you load the box no matter what,’ you can get off balance. Your quarterback takes more hits. You may have more yards, but your [run-pass options] don’t work as well, and it keeps more balance in your room of players and where the ball goes.”
Ole Miss will take on Georgia Tech at home on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT. The two teams faced off last season in Atlanta with the Rebels dominating the Yellowjackets 42-0.
Saturday’s game can be watched on the SEC Network or streamed on participating SuperTalk Mississippi stations.
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