The Ole Miss offense has struggled at times to feature a solid running game this season, relying more on the passing game to win.
The Rebels’s ground game averages 151.3 rushing yards per game, which is good for 84th in the country.
Head coach Hugh Freeze mentioned at the beginning of the season that the ground game would feature running backs by committee, but junior tailback Jaylen Walton has established himself as the top back as of late.
Walton rushed for 60 yards on 10 carries with one touchdown Saturday in the win over Tennessee.
Walton is the leading rusher on the team with 347 yards on the ground for the season and 161 more yards than his junior counterpart I’Tavius Mathers.
Even with his success over the season, Walton isn’t concerned with taking over the starting spot full time.
“I just try and take advantages of my opportunities that I’m given,” Walton said. “I don’t look at the depth chart or anything. I take every opportunity that the coaches want me to do, if it’s running, catching or special teams. I’ll take it to the best of my opportunities.”
Walton has improved his game since the beginning of the season. He struggled against Boise State, running for -3 yards on just four carries. Walton has picked it up since then and has had the most carries since that game.
“It’s pretty much been the whole deal. Running, passing, blocking, running routes out of the backfield, getting handoffs from the quarterback,” Walton said. “It’s just trying to stay on the field as long as possible.”
Improving more as an in-between-the-tackles runner instead of relying on rushing to the outside has also helped him improve.
“In this league, the edge isn’t going to be there, all of the time,” Walton said. “You got to grind your way throughout the middle and go in between blocks. It’s what I worked on all summer.”
Taking big hits and protecting yourself is something a running back has to look out for when going in between the tackles. Walton took notice of that.
“Pad level is key in being lower than the defender,” Walton said. “All of us take shots. To last long and staying at a good pad level definitely helps.”
The offense as a whole has taken a more conservative approach as of lately, riding the coattails of the defense and letting their play set the tone for the game. The conservative game plan seemed to start against Alabama, and it’s worked since then.
Walton likes the conservative approach on offense and thinks it helps open up holes for big plays.
“The way our offense puts up points, we’ll get mismatches with the linebacker and get a one-on-one situation with our better receivers,” Walton said. “We’re definitely looking to score after that.”
Being more aggressive earlier on in the game has slowed the production on offense to start games. There seems to be no pressure as a result of that.
“We all just stay focused and try to respect the game plan,” Walton said. “I don’t think there is much pressure for us if we don’t make a play. If we miss one play, we have plenty more.”