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Comparing Ole Miss and Missouri: Running Backs

Jeff Scott (left/photo from Getty Images) and Henry Josey (right / Photo from mutigers.com) are the two leading rushers for both their teams
Jeff Scott (left/photo from Getty Images) and Henry Josey (right / Photo from mutigers.com) are the two leading rushers for both their teams

Ole Miss tied the series back up yesterday by gaining the advantage over the Tigers in the wide receiver category. The quarterbacks and wide receivers get a lot of attention in both of these offenses, but the running backs have been playing stellar for both schools all season. That’s where our comparison will be today.

The Rebels and Tigers are very similar at the running back position. Both have backs that are on the smaller side that can burst open a play with blazing speed. Lets start the comparison with yesterday’s comparison winner.

Ole Miss-Leading rushers

1) Jeff Scott (64 rushes, 488 yards, 2 touchdowns)

2) I’Tavius Mathers (68 rushes, 429 yards, 2 touchdowns)

3) Jaylen Walton (76 rushes, 391 yards, 6 touchdowns)

The rushing attack for the Rebels has been very efficient for most of the season. Right now they are ranked fifth in the SEC in rushing yards per game (200.6) and 31st nationally.

Ole Miss doesn’t have any “bruiser” running backs that can just pound it up the middle every play by running into a linebacker or defensive lineman. The Rebels average a height of a little under 5’9 and weight of 174.6 in their three top rushers. While the Ole Miss backfield may be small, you’ll be hard pressed to find a team with more burst on the edges than the Rebels.

Jeff Scott was injured for several weeks before finally getting significant playing time again last week against Troy. In his return he ran the ball for 54 yards on 11 carries and also had 2 receptions for 25 yards. Most remember Scott from the Vanderbilt game at the start of the season when he broke a 75 yard touchdown run to put the Rebels ahead with less than 2 minutes to go in the game. He had another big game against Texas, rushing for 164 yards on 19 carries.

Since then, Scott has been relatively quiet in the backfield. But he has made an impact in special teams returning punts this year. He has only been able to field seven punts but he has gained 89 yards and one touchdown on the year. Scott will get his carries and his yards Saturday but the impact form the backfield won’t stop with him.

I’Tavius Mathers is the biggest running back out of the top three rushers standing at 5’11 189 pounds. He’s about three inches taller and twenty pounds heavier than both Walton and Scott. Mathers had his breakout moment last year in the Compass Bowl where he sealed the deal on an Ole Miss victory against Pitt with a 70+ yard touchdown run. Since then, he hasn’t slowed down.

Mathers has been reliable on third down all year long when the ball is given to him to get a first down. He hasn’t had very many big stat games this year. He’s only had one game where he has rushed for over 100 yards, but he is still averaging 6.3 yards a carry on the season. Missouri has a big and fast defensive line that the Rebels are going to need to impose their will against and Mathers pounding it up the middle is essential to that.

And last but certainly not least is Jaylen Walton. What can you say about the guy. He has been all heart since he stepped foot on campus last year and that hasn’t stopped. Early in the season, Walton was sitting behind Jeff Scott but still getting a good amount of carries. Once Scott was injured though, it was all Walton and he was nothing short of spectacular.

The LSU game was Walton’s coming out party to the SEC. He burst on to the scene gashing the Tiger’s defense for 106 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns leading the Rebels to the upset of the, then, No.6 Tigers. Against Arkansas he struggled running out of the backfield but he gained 86 yards receiving on five receptions. Then last week against Troy he rushed the ball six times for 62 yards and one touchdown. He also caught three passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. Walton must have a big game running the ball if the Rebels want to win the game Saturday. Missouri’s defensive ends are some of the fastest in the SEC, but Walton has enough speed to get outside of them if he needs to.

Missouri-Leading rushers

1) Henry Josey (125 rushes, 760 yards, 10 touchdowns)

2) Russell Hansbrough (83 rushes, 544 yards, 4 touchdowns)

3) Marcus Murphy (63 rushes, 485 yards, 7 touchdowns)

Missouri currently ranks second in the SEC in rushing yards per game (235.8) only behind Auburn, and 18th nationally. The Tigers have an entire stable of running backs and their top three are almost all over 500 yards on the year.

The Mizzou running backs are very dangerous in the open field and one of one situations. Their top three rushers aren’t much bigger than Ole Miss’ top three, averaging a height of 5’9.5 and weight of 193 pounds. The breakaway speed of the Tiger’s backfield is almost second to none.

Junior Henry Josey has been the starter all season for the Tigers and has produced some of the best individual rushing numbers in the SEC. He has three games in which he has rushed for over 100 yards and four more games where he has had at least 52 yards or more. Josey’s breakaway speed is the biggest cause for concern for the Rebels. When Josey sees a hole, he hits it and is very good at making defenders miss in the open field. Linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Mike Marry face a great challenge in trying to contain him.

Backing up Josey is Russell Hansbrough. He is just a pure, straight ahead runner. His receiving ability isn’t something the Rebels should be concerned about, since he has only caught one pass this season for five yards. If he is in the game, he is either running the ball or pass blocking. He’s been a valuable addition to the Mizzou backfield this season averaging 6.6 yards a carry and four touchdowns. He has also run for 100 yards in two different games this season.

Finally we get to Marcus Murphy. Just when you think you may get a break when Josey or Hansbrough come out of the game, it’s still not going to be a play off. Murphy has almost rushed for 500 yards this season and is second on the team with seven touchdowns. He’s the same type of back that the other two Missouri running backs are so once again, no plays can be taken off by the Ole Miss defense or they will get burned.

Verdict:

Ole Miss’ running backs have been very solid and helped the passing game by being great receivers on the season. Scott, Walton, and Mathers are all capable of making players miss in the open field. However, Missouri is just bigger, stronger and possibly faster than some of the Ole Miss backs. They’ve also been more productive running the ball. Both have great backfields but we are going to give Missouri the advantage over the Rebels today.

Advantage-Missouri

Recap:

Quarterbacks-Missouri

Wide Receivers-Ole Miss

Running Backs-Missouri

Offensive Line-Coming soon (Thursday 11/21)

Defensive Line-Coming soon (Friday 11/22)

–Justin Taylor, Associate Editor, HottyToddy.com

–You can email Justin at justin.taylor@hottytoddy.com

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