Ole Miss football: Hello, Jerrion Ealy. Freshman adding some juice to rushing attack
Coming into the season, we knew the Rebels would be a tough out in the backfield. Scottie Phillips returned to lead a group that added freshman Snoop Conner and freshman Jerrion Ealy. Add sophomore Isaiah Woullard and the Rebs are in great shape.
So far, so good. Ole Miss has rushed for 593 yards, including 237 against Arkansas. Phillips leads the room with 308 yards on 71 carries.
The thought coming into the season was that Phillips, who is a prototypical NFL running back, would be making a lot of money next season. I’ve seen nothing to change my thought process. He catches the ball out of the backfield and runs downhill at all times. His most important attribute might be getting yards after contact.
Ealy has been as advertised. He could be the best of the bunch, amassing 367 all-purpose yards. Against Southeastern Louisiana last week, Ealy set a freshman record for all-purpose yards at Ole Miss with 273 yards, breaking the record set by former Rebel Dexter McCluster.
“I’m really proud of Jerrion,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke told the media. “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.”
Simply put, he’s special. A few times against SELA last week, Ealy made the most of an awful situation. When he should have been tackled in the backfield, he turned it into a positive play.
Ole Miss fans are excited about his future and they should be. His quarterback is.
“He can run, catch and really do it all,” quarterback Matt Corral told reporters. “I am not surprised though. That is expected from him.”
Just at running back, Ealy has rushed for 113 yards on 17 carries, good for 6.1 yards per carry and a touchdown. With that type of average, Ole Miss offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez must get him more touches.
“First game for me was a lot faster than I expected it to be,” Ealy told reporters. “By Game 2, 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 3, it’s all starting to click.”
As for special teams, he’s returned 8 kickoffs for 222 yards, an average of 27.8 yards per return.
Finally, Snoop Conner has played sparingly but it hasn’t come in mop-up duty. His production has been instrumental in closing out games. Last week, Conner reeled off a big 3rd-down run late in the 4th quarter to set up a Luke Logan field goal and ice the game against SELA.
To have that option in the SEC is crucial. I would expect Matt Luke is very excited he has a running back he can turn to late in the game when defenses are worn out; Conner can enter with fresh legs and give his offense a boost.
Like Ealy, Conner is a freshman. He’s averaging a nice 5.1 yards per carry.
Those are numbers Rodriguez can get behind. So far the season, Conner has accounted for 93 yards on 18 carries.
Don’t forget about Corral, either.
Corral was classified as a pro-style QB as a recruit, but he certainly has running capabilities.
Corral has rushed for 109 yards through 3 games. Sacks have cut into that net total, however. He’s lost 74 yards due to sacks, but when he escapes the pressure or keeps it on a designed run, he can cause headaches for linebackers.
Corral must continue to be effective running the RPO style offense but must protect the football. Fumbles are an issue, especially the way he carries the ball, usually low, away from his body instead of tucked high and tight. He’s susceptible to being stripped.
So far, the Rebels have fumbled 6 times and lost 4 of them. A number of them can be traced back to Corral. While only throwing 1-interception, Corral has to be better at decision making going forward.
Ole Miss faces a stiff test on Saturday when No. 23 Cal visits. You can bet Rodriguez will lean on Phillips, Ealy and the running game to pull off the upset.