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Elon finds benefits of rushing paths; Phoenix hit ground running to begin season

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

Elon’s offense might look more diverse this season if one game is an indication.
The Phoenix offense, which often produced little on the ground the past couple of seasons, showed some improved wrinkles in the opener.

“We love to run the ball. We love to see the yards on the board,” said Jabril Williams, the starting right guard who also plays center. “We love to see that type of stuff. We have a quarterback who can throw. He can also run it.”

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In Saturday night’s 42-31 loss at Vanderbilt, the Phoenix racked up 152 rushing yards. That was the most since the 2021 spring opener vs. Davidson, so it was stretch that spanned 16 games.

“We can build off it,” head coach Tony Trisciani said. “To run for over 100 yards against an SEC defense was good for us. That was against an SEC front that’s bigger than what we’ll see all season. I felt like, physically, we went toe-to-toe with them as the game went on.”
Next up is Saturday night’s visit to Spartanburg, S.C., to meet Wofford.

Quarterback Matthew McKay had 52 yards on 13 carries and Wayne Dixie III posted 50 yards on 11 attempts in the Vanderbilt game. That was part of Elon churning out 495 yards of total offense.

McKay is more prone to pick up yards on the ground than Davis Cheek, who had been Elon’s starter in recent seasons.

“It’s something we always wanted to put our hat on and do – run the ball. It doesn’t really matter who’s back there,” Williams said. “We want more every week. If we can do 200, 300, 400, so be it. As an O-line, we’ve talked about how we want to show our dominance.”

Trisciani said some of the rushing pick-ups helped Elon “keep on schedule” on first and second downs. Some third-down rushes were called in order to put the Phoenix in better position if they opted to go for it on fourth downs.

“Balance isn’t as important as being opportunistic,” Trisciani said. “We’re a take-what-they-give offense.”

This might have just been a launching point for the rushing attack. The offensive line will play a role in that.

“We thought we could also better ourselves,” Williams said. “We try to hammer home techniques. Keep building on what we did. We’re hoping to put it together.”

Important assignment
A year ago, the Phoenix began the season with a home loss to Wofford, which hasn’t won a game since then.

The outcome that day ultimately cost Elon a spot in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, in Trisciani’s opinion.

As much as the Elon players and staff don’t like to look back, they’re aware of the costly nature of that defeat. Not to mention, the Phoenix and Terriers used to be in the Southern Conference together.

“For us, they’re a regional rival,” Trisciani said, noting the pursuit of the same players during recruiting.

Wofford began the season with a 31-0 Southern Conference loss at Chattanooga on Saturday.

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