Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss running backs hitting their stride in time for huge stretch run
At times early in the season, Ole Miss had a first-world problem of sorts with its running backs.
The Rebels have 3 SEC-caliber running backs in Jerrion Ealy, Henry Parrish and Snoop Conner. Each has unique skills. For the most part, this is a luxury most teams outside of Georgia long for. And for the most part, the Rebels have utilized all 3 pretty well, but at times, it’s difficult to maximize the value of everybody within a game.
Ole Miss played the right notes in a 31-17 win over LSU to the tune of 266 yards in a game in which all 3 backs made a sizable impact.
“We needed that,” Lane Kiffin said. “When your quarterback’s down and a couple of receivers are down to get 266 yards without the quarterback putting much in, that is really awesome.”
Jerrion Ealy was the X-factor on Saturday. He’d scuffled a bit over his previous 3 games as his workload and total snap count decreased. He missed the Arkansas game with a concussion and had just 7 carries in the win over Tennessee. Ealy is a home-run hitter in the sense that speed is his biggest strength. When he gets the ball in space and has a sizable hole to work with, he’s dangerous. Ealy struggles when his feet stop to seek a cutback lane or he gets bogged down trying to find a hole. After a chat with Kiffin and the coaching staff, Ealy ran with a different sense of urgency on Saturday.
“I think he opened his stride up,” Kiffin said. “We talked to him this week and said, ‘Hey, you are a speed back, but you aren’t playing like it.’ He wasn’t letting it loose.”
Ealy had a pair of runs that converted 3rd-and-long that broke the LSU defense and significantly altered the game. His best run was the 36-yard TD scamper that showed off his elusiveness and speed.
Those runs are Ealy at his best, and as he seemingly regained his identity as a runner, the entire running back position was stronger as a result. The didn’t miss a beat despite missing 2 starters at receiver and 2 more on the offensive line.
“Physically and mentally, I was fresh,” Ealy said. “I changed up my routine and I think I will stick with that now. I wasn’t trusting myself, my speed and my abilities. (Against LSU), I just said forget it, I am going to trust it and whatever happens happens.”
Ealy finished with 97 yards on 12 carries. Conner led with 14 carries for 117 yards and served as the bruising back between the tackles that wore down the LSU defense. The nimble Parrish did not factor into the running game as much as he has over the past couple of games, but he caught a couple of important passes that helped supplement a depleted receiving corps.
The Ole Miss running backs helped carry a short-handed offense to a win on Saturday.
That’s exactly how Kiffin wants the offense to work. As you well know, last year the Rebels led the SEC in rushing. They’re still atop the leaderboard this year, too, averaging 263 yards per game — a full 50 more than last season. If you want to make it apples-to-apples, they’re averaging 236.7 yards per game against SEC teams — still 20 more yards than last year.
Approaching that level of success will be critical as we race toward November. As long as he is healthy, Matt Corral is going to get his through the air, but the Rebels’ rushing attack still must face the No. 5 (Auburn), No. 6 (Texas A&M) and No. 3 (Mississippi State) rush defenses in the SEC.
Ealy is confident the best is yet to come from all 3 backs.
“We don’t know what it looks like because we haven’t seen all three guys really get going yet,” Ealy said. “When that happens, you’ll know what it looks like.”