OXFORD, Miss. — He is the 5-foot-8 running back in a 6-foot-4 college football world.
But, make no mistake, Ole Miss sophomore, Jerrion Ealy, is standing head and shoulders above most of the backs in the Southeastern Conference.
The Walnut Grove, Miss., native leads the Rebels with 355 yards rushing and is averaging 88.75 yards per game. Ealy has topped the 100-yard mark on two occasions, once against Kentucky and the other against Alabama prior to the Rebels’ 33-21 loss at Arkansas.
Against the Razorbacks, he gained 112 yards but most of those came after the halftime break. For the first time this season, Ole Miss was shut out in the first half as the offense struggled, something that was corrected during the intermission.
“We were just more detailed (in the second half),” Ealy said Tuesday in a Zoom with local media. “We just relied on our keys, our running keys, and perfected them.”
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) October 20, 2020
Unfortunately, mistakes doomed the Rebels in Fayetteville Saturday. There was a running into the kicker penalty to aid an Arkansas drive, a fumble, six interceptions and the Hogs held on two goal-line stands. It is those wasted opportunities at the doorstep of a touchdown that haunt Ealy.
“They just wanted it more than we did,” Ealy said. “They were prepared for pretty much all of our plays. They played it the perfect way they could play it.”
The fact a defense finally quieted the Ole Miss fast-paced offense was not lost on head coach Lane Kiffin. And he knows the Rebels’ running game needs to improve.
“They pay the defensive coordinators a lot in this conference for reason,” Kiffin said. “You can’t just get away with what you’re doing. They’re going to scheme you up and they did the same thing to Mississippi State, and Kentucky did it to State too, so people will copycat it. You have to run the ball better and work different things in the passing game.”
Yet the Ole Miss rushing attack has not been bad.
The Rebels rank second in the SEC with 819 rushing yards, averaging 204.8 yards per game on the ground, trailing only the league-leading Kentucky Wildcats (824) by just five yards. Ole Miss is also second in total offense, gaining 540.25 yards per game.
Ealy is tied for third in the SEC with five rushing touchdowns.
Still, the number that sticks in Ealy’s head is two.
Ole Miss has suffered two consecutive losses. That leaves Ealy back with a case of tunnel vision heading into the Auburn game Saturday. The Tigers are 2-2, while Ole Miss is 1-3 heading into the Homecoming contest.
“This week, coming off of two straight losses, we have to be more focused than ever,” Ealy said. “Because you don’t want a third, so yes, we are more focused than ever right now.”
Should that focus appear at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Ealy and the Rebels should get the season back on track.
And if Ealy’s running game continues the path it has been, he will continue to tower above the competition.