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Ole Miss Practice Report: With Phillips Absent, Woullard Discusses Increased Role

Running back Scottie Phillips was not at practice on Tuesday as Ole miss began on-field preparation for its trip to Nashville to face Vanderbilt this weekend. Phillips suffered a left ankle sprain int the first quarter in the loss to Texas A&M and did not return.

What’s the contingency plan if Phillips is unable to go? Enter Isaiah Woullard.
“It’s a big deal,” Woullard said. “I am going to be prepared. That is all I can do.“

Woullard is preparing as if Phillips won’t play. The true freshman held his own in Phillips’ absence against the second best run defense in college football. Woullard totaled 64 yards on 16 rushes and caught one pass out of the backfield. It was the first extended action of his college career.

“We feel confident with what Isaiah brings to the table,” running backs coach Derrick Nix said. “I thought he handled it well in protection and running the football of course. He caught a ball out of the backfield too. I feel comfortable with him playing.”

Phillips’ injury comes at a precarious time with the Rebels playing two games in ten days to close the season. It’s hard to imagine Phillips being able to play against Vanderbilt on Saturday night and even being available for Mississippi State on a short week is going to be difficult. Given the hefty physical toll these last two games are sure to take on the team, how healthy would Phillips have to be in order to play in one or both of the final contests?

“I think with his toughness, if he can get to 85 or 90 percent he will be able to will his way to finding a way back on the field,” Nix said. “We don’t want to do anything to cause further injury, but I think he will do anything he can to get himself back out there and help this team.”

Phillips is an explosive back who relies heavily on a single cut to get into the second level and beyond. An injured ankle can greatly affect that burst and render him ineffective. Nix did not know if Phillips will be able to cut on the left ankle.

Woullard’s entrance into the spotlight is another chapter in what is fascinating story. The Hattiesburg native was offered a scholarship the night before National Signing Day in 2017 and was forced to grey shirt last season. His father, Reggie, played football at Ole Miss in the 1970’s and the late Ole Miss offer was the one Woullard longed for throughout his entire recruitment. Bigger schools were hesitant to recruit Woullard because he played MAIS private school football in high school, but he’s a durable back and a powerful runner that has quietly strung together a nice freshman season.

“I’ve been doubted,” Phillips said. “I just keep going.”

“You talk about a guy you want to go to battle with,” Nix said. “You kind of forget he is a freshman. He still has time to grow and get better. I like his approach to the game. He has a chip on his shoulder and he goes to work every day. I am glad to see him have success.”

Even with Woullard, depth has to be a pressing concern for this coaching staff with Eric Swinney being the only other back on the team with significant game experience. Ole Miss moved Armani Linton back to running back a little over a month after moving him from the backfield to the secondary and D’Vaughn Pennamon will not play this season. Nix said Pennamon’s rehab is going well, but he has not been cleared to participate in team contact portions of practice. Pennamon suffered a knee injury in Ole Miss’ penultimate game against Texas A&M in 2017 and has yet to fully recover.

Expect to see Woullard get the bulk of the carries this week much like Phillips did when healthy. Swinney will pick up whatever is left over, but the team is an injury away from really being in a tight spot at the running back position.

Coatney talks defensive improvement and what needs to get better:

A shorthanded Ole Miss defense is doing what it can to give the Rebels a chance to win week in and week out. The unit put together a solid half against the Aggies, but eventually ran out of gas in the second half of the loss in College Station. Josiah Coatney assessed the improvements, the turnovers and what the group needs to do better in the final nine days of the 2018 season.

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