By Brian Scott Rippee
OXFORD — Ole Miss announced on Tuesday that junior running back Eric Swinney will miss three weeks due to mononucleosis, often referred to as “mono.”
What does that mean for the Rebels going forward? It means they will go into Saturday’s season opener with the top two running backs on their depth chart— junior college transfer Scottie Phillips and redshirt freshman Isaiah Woullard — have never taken a snap in a Division I football game. With D’Vaughn Pennamon still recovering from a catastrophic knee injury suffered last season, the only player on the Rebels’ roster that has carried the football in a game is D.K. Buford who totaled eight carries for for 28 yards last year. Buford was thought to be mostly a special teams player this season.
Truthfully, this doesn’t change a lot in terms of carry distribution at the top. Since Scottie Phillips arrived on campus in January, he has solidified himself as Ole Miss’ number one back and the perceived bell cow to replace Jordan Wilkins. Matt Luke made it clear on Monday and throughout fall camp that Phillips will receive the bulk of the carries against Texas Tech, but it does hurt the team’s depth. Whatever Woullard’s workload was going to be on Saturday, it just increased in some capacity.
“It means a bigger role,” Woullard said. “It is an opportunity. It is a bigger opportunity.”
Woullard said he will have a lot of family in attendance. His entry into the game will be a long-awaited reward for a guy who wasn’t offered by the Rebels until the night before National Signing Day in 2017, only to have to grey shirt last season. He knew he would contribute this season, but that contribution will be a bigger than he originally imagined.
“It’s humbling,” Woullard said. “It is a big deal. Hopefully I will be able to hold it all in and be ready to go.”
Running backs coach Derrick Nix said the team has taken precaution to ensure that no one else shows symptom’s of the illness and that he hopes Swinney will be back sooner rather than later. It is a tough break for Swinney who has battled two devastating leg injuries early on his career and played behind other backs. Nix acknowledged the blow Swinney’s absence creates to the team’s depth, but he is confident with who is available.
“It hurts,” Nix said. “Eric was the only guy coming back with any experience, especially on third down situations. It is next man up. It is different when you get into a game situation, but these guys have shown they can compete at a high level and be able to function. I am confident in them.”
Nix said you could see freshman Tylan Knight and converted defensive back Armani Linton get touches as well. Nix said Pennamon has been going through individual drills but has not participated in any of the team portions of practice. Pennamon will be reevaluated midseason and Nix was pleased with the progress Pennamon has made.
Logan feels confident despite limited experience:
Another area in which Ole Miss is having to fill big shoes is at kicker as it tries to replace the school’s all-time scoring leader in Gary Wunderlich. Sophomore kicker Luke Logan is the man tasked with filling those shoes. Logan goes into Saturday’s game armed with at least some game experience. He went 2-of-3 on field goal attempts last season while Wunderlich dealt with an injury. Logan had a long of 25 yards and kicked nine extra points as well. He says he will be able to draw on that experience heading into the game.
“That is huge,” Logan said. “Without that I do not think I would be in the position that I am in. Just knowing what an SEC game is like kicking field goals and extra points. It is huge for my confidence and for the team’s confidence in me.”
Logan struggled a bit in the spring and had to work to cement his place as the starting kicker during fall camp. He says he is much more confident and the mental side of his approach is in a much better place. Logan said he has talked to Wunderlich throughout fall camp and will do so again before Saturday’s game.
“Anything 45 yards and in I expect to be 100 percent,” Logan said. “That is what I have always told myself and always strived for. I can kick outside for that but for myself to be happy, 100 percent at 45 and in has always been my goal.”
Logan said he has also been handling kickoff duties. Kickoff on Saturday is set for 11 A.M. CT.
Running backs doing drills. Rebels will be without Eric Swinney on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/9oLmm3Ynw2
— Brian Scott Rippee (@bsrippee) August 29, 2018
Ole Miss busted out the white helmets in practice today. Here are the tight ends getting some work in. pic.twitter.com/JgIrTgfpgI
— Brian Scott Rippee (@bsrippee) August 28, 2018