Rebel defense, run game ready to build on improved performance

Posted on Nov 16 2016 - 8:03am by Sam Harres
Akeem Judd

Running back Akeem Judd finds a hole to run through during a game against Georgia Southern earlier this season. Judd rushed for more than 100 yards in his second consecutive game after Saturday’s win over Texas A&M. (Photo by: Cameron Brooks)

While quarterback Shea Patterson’s introduction to the NCAA stage will garner most of the headlines, he wasn’t the only Rebel having a good game. With such a young quarterback at the helm of his ship, Head Coach Hugh Freeze had to look for other team leaders to step up and lead Ole Miss into battle against such a dangerous Texas A&M team. Senior running back Akeem Judd was ready to answer the call.

After struggling to find penetration early in the season, Judd looks to finally have hit his stride. He rushed for more than 100 yards in his second consecutive game and contributed a touchdown Saturday night. Running backs Coach Derrick Nix, a legend at Southern Miss himself, knew it was only a matter of time.

“We challenged him as an offensive staff probably about four games ago to be the one-cut, downhill physical presence we need in this offense, especially down the stretch, and he’s been getting better and better every week at that,” Nix said. “I especially challenged him going into last week’s game, going into it with a freshman quarterback and him not knowing the ins and outs. I just told him he’s got to be a lot better so that we can lean on him during this game against A&M, and he showed up.”

Having a run option took pressure off Patterson and gave him plenty of time to make the right throws. Judd was able to make the kinds of runs he did, in large part, due to the Ole Miss offensive line. While it too has had its own set of struggles, its play has improved substantially as well.

“It always starts up front with them, them getting great movement, getting the push up front to give us some room…We want to be a running team as well and just be balanced. Deal with the running ball as well as we pass it,” Nix said.

On the other side of the ball, the Rebels’ defense seems to finally be finding its groove. For Head Defensive Coach Dave Wommack, a win against an eighth-ranked Aggie team with lethal offensive weapons means the world. Even more so, in a season where both wins and defensive stops have not been few and far between, keeping a school like Texas A&M to 28 brings relief to Wommack and his staff.

“It was good to get that win. Everyone in the locker room was excited, the coaches, the players, everybody, and we need it. I mean, we really needed it,” Wommack said.  “That was our first road victory of the year. I don’t know how long it’s been since it’s taken that long in the season to get a road victory, but we got one against a very quality football team, and you have to build on it.”

A shaky first half probably quickly turned into a dominant second half as the Rebels held A&M to just seven points in the third and fourth quarters.

“I think when we came out on the onsides kick in the second half and just stopped them pretty quick right there we just kind of built on it,” Wommack said. “They just got a little bit of confidence… As soon as we stopped [making mistakes], we were a much better defense.”