The Ealy Show was in full effect on Saturday with the running back showing his five-star potential in a record-breaking performance against SELA on the ground, in the air and on special teams with 94 yard kickoff return touchdown for his opening act.
The true freshman finished the game with 273 all-purpose yards, breaking the record for total yards from a freshman in a single game previously set by Dexter McCluster in 2006. The performance begs the question of Ealy’s potential in his next few years in Oxford and if he can reach or even surpass the level of the Rebel legend.
To compare these two playmakers, we can start with the measurables. Both Ealy and McCluster stand at 5-foot-9. Although Ealy has about 20 pounds on college freshman McCluster, the two have a similar build and similar game.
The two, however, had totally different paths to Ole Miss. While Ealy came in to Oxford as the third-ranked running back in the country with offers from college football behemoths Alabama and Clemson, McCluster didn’t have the same suitors.
The Largo, Florida, native’s top offers outside of Ole Miss included West Virginia, Akron and Idaho according to Rivals.com, with serious interest only coming from the Rebels. He only achieved three-star status before signing with Ed Orgeron and Ole Miss.
McCluster’s breakout game came immediately against Memphis in the 2006 season opener. He put up 268 yards in his debut using 60 yards rushing, 86 yards receiving and 122 yards returning kickoffs. His single touchdown came from the famed “McCluster Fluster,” an old fumblerooski trick play that allowed McCluster to scoot 32 yards unseen and untouched by the Tigers at the start of the second half.
Ealy took a few extra weeks to burst onto the scene. The utility back out of Jackson Prep posted only nine total rushing yards in the first two games against Memphis and Arkansas. Ealy added to his 172 return yards with 95 rushing yards and a touchdown as well as one catch for six yards.
McCluster finished his freshman year with only 574 all-purpose yards after battling injury halfway through the season. The Rebels will need Ealy to have much more production in his rookie season in order to reach six wins in 2019. To do that he’ll need more explosive performances against much better teams.
His first real test comes this week against the California Golden Bears, who boast one of the most dynamic defenses in the nation. Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez is charged with finding creative ways to get Ealy the ball in space this week.