In 2017, then true freshman quarterback Kellen Mond burst on to the scene on an 81-yard rush against Arkansas, with a tight-rope effort that almost made the explosive play a score.
Two seasons later, head coach Jimbo Fisher is determining his own line of how often he must utilize the legs of his junior quarterback to move a stagnant rushing offense.
Mond led the Aggies in rushing yards in Saturday’s loss to Alabama and finished second to running back Jacob Kibodi against Arkansas, attempting to carry the load left in the stead of sophomore running back Jashaun Corbin, who was lost for the remainder of the season with a hamstring injury.
Corbin’s positional replacement, freshman Isaiah Spiller, has gained 176 yards on 44 carries since Corbin’s injury, including just 27 on 17 carries over the Aggies’ last two games.
It’s a shift in offensive strategy in which Fisher has shown some reluctance this season.
Prior to the Aggies’ 31-27 win in the Southwest Classic, Razorback head coach Chad Morris said he expected Mond to factor more into the rushing game. He did, mostly in the second half, picking up 33 yards on 14 carries. Of those 14 carries, four were designed runs.
After that game, Fisher said on his weekly radio show that his concern was with the beating a quarterback can take while using his legs to move the chains.
“There’s only so much physical pounding [a quarterback can take],” Fishers said. “The Cam Newtons of the world, even a guy of that physical stature, it’s broken him down. Those guys have all gotten pounded and beaten. That body can only take so many shots.”
Saturday, as the fourth quarter drew to a close in the 47-28 loss to Alabama, Mond again looked hobbled as he continued to fight to carry the Aggie offense to the final buzzer. He rushed for 90 yards on 16 carries, including one touchdown run. On a 46-yard rush late in the fourth quarter, which set up the 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jalen Wydermyer, Mond fell on his leg awkwardly, causing the limp.
Mond’s roommate, wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon said Monday he didn’t notice any painful gaits that were out of the ordinary after Saturday’s game, due to the fact that he is always nursing some soreness after an SEC battle.
“He’s always sore,” Ausbon said. “He’s always banged up because he plays pretty hard. Kellen is pretty tough, though. He doesn’t really talk about it a lot. He’s just on to the next one.”
However after a few hits on Saturday, Ausbon said he was surprised how quickly Mond popped back up to take signals for the next play. It all goes back to Mond’s upbringing in a military family, Ausbon said.
“He’s tough, man. Hats off to Kellen,” he said with a smile.
While Ole Miss enters Saturday’s contest ranked 91st in total defense, it specializes in stopping the run with an average of 118.4 yards per game. Monday, Fisher seemed more inclined to see Mond take matters onto his legs, despite the added hits he could take.
“Usually, when you’re running the ball out of the pocket, you don’t take the hits you take when you’re in the pocket, because you know those hits are coming,” Fisher said.
“You’ve got to play the game,” Fisher added. “If it’s committed that you run it, you run it. If you throw it, you throw it. If you hand it, you hand it. Those are all dictated a lot of times by the defense.”
Fisher said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference that it ultimately comes down to the defense whether certain scrambles or run-pass option keeps materialize. Because of that, Mond doesn’t have to be the Aggies’ leading rusher for there to be success in the run game, he said.
As of now, it’s just a matter of sticking to what is working.
“It’s a fine line,” Fisher said during his radio show. “What we have to do is find enough of everything we do so we can just move the dadgum ball and score points.”