A grin sprouted across Jerrion Ealy’s face on Saturday evening just after Ole Miss’ 40-29 win over Southeastern Louisiana.
The smile was prompted by a question a reporter posed as to how often been caught he gets caught from behind.
“It’s never happened,” Ealy declared as he knocked on the wooden panel in front of him and beamed.
The freshman five-star running back isn’t short on confidence, and that self-assuredness, at its origin is manifested in the ability Ealy possesses. The two-sport star flashed the explosiveness he brings to the Ole Miss backfield by way of a nine-carry, 101-yard performance that included a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Ealy broke Dexter McCluster’s record for all-purpose yards by a freshman in a single game with 273.
“The offensive line did a good job staying on their blocks and on track,” Ealy said. “That’s all I can ask for. Once they do that, it is up to me to make the right decisions, find the hole and get loose.”
The kickoff return came in the first quarter after the Lions’ second drive netted a field goal. Ealy drifted to the right, swung back towards the left and out-ran every feeble defender pursuing him.
“I knew if I got through their first line there would be no one else,” Ealy said. “Once I got pas the first line, I broke it off to the left and the rest is history.”
The bulk of his yardage on the ground came on a single drive — a two-play, 82-yard touchdown march that Ealy created nearly single-handedly –on the Rebels’ first drive of the second quarter. He busted a 52-yard run down the near sideline and scored from 30 yards out on the next play.
“I’m really proud of Jerrion,” head coach Matt Luke said. “The difference in the game was a big run and the kickoff return for a touchdown. There are some freshmen out there making mistakes, but there’s some freshmen out there making big plays too.”
Ealy, along with fellow freshman Snoop Conner have made an instant impact for Ole Miss and the running back position has become deepest on the roster. Scottie Phillips still shoulders most of the workload. His 26 carries for 109 yards led the Rebels in rushing, as he has every game. But Ole Miss’ ability to his opposing teams in different ways. Ealy’s versatility makes him a pass-catching threat both out of the backfield and in the slot. Rich Rodriguez has featured him in both places through three games and Saturday was the most carries Rodriguez has allotted to Ealy.
“He can run, catch and really do it all,” quarterback Matt Corral said. “I am not surprised though. That is expected from him.”
For all of its issues on the offensive line, Ole Miss has the ability to wear teams down in the running game. Snoop Conner had nine carries, too. Eight of those came on the Rebels’ final drive as they salted the game away. Ole Miss’ carries dispersion in the season opener was far from what Rodriguez desired it to be because of how putrid it performed in the first half. The Rebels ran just 53 plays and Phillips saw all but one carry amongst the trio of backs. The last two games has been more like what Luke and Rodriguez envision.
For Ealy, he’s only three games into his college career. He’s learning by the day, but thinks the game is slowing down for him and he’s getting more comfortable.
“First game for me was a lot faster than I expected it to be,” Ealy said. “By game two, it was slowing down a little bit, and then I was able to hit the holes faster and see things I hadn’t seen. Now at game three, it’s all starting to click.”
Catch Brian Scott Rippee’s postgame analysis:
Ole Miss beats Southeastern Louisiana 40-29 https://t.co/AkXqnj4wSq
— SportsTalk Mississippi (@SportsTalkMiss) September 15, 2019
photo credit: Joshua McCoy — Ole Miss Athletics