Jerrion Ealy

Ole Miss freshman running back Jerrion Ealy is third on the team in rushing with 428 yards on just 62 carries with four touchdowns. He could play an even bigger role today.

OXFORD Freshmen running back Jerrion Ealy and Jarod “Snoop” Conner could be featured prominently in Saturday night game stories and Sunday morning headlines.

They haven’t lacked for opportunities or attention in their first season at Ole Miss.

Today at 3 p.m., the Rebels face winless New Mexico State in what on paper appears to be a statistical mismatch. Ole Miss leads the SEC in rushing at 225.2 yards a game.

Only one FBS team – UMass – has allowed more rushing yards than New Mexico State, which is giving up an average of 263.5 yards.

Ealy has 62 rushing attempts this season, Conner 49. Those numbers could spike against the Aggies as starting running back Scottie Phillips, a senior, is unlikely to play because of an ankle injury.

“That’s the plan,” Conner said. “We don’t know yet, but I’ll probably get some more carries.”

Ealy, Conner and other freshmen have combined to account for 3,214 of the Rebels’ 3,739 yards (86 percent) this season.

As a recruit Conner (5-foot-10, 215), a running quarterback at Hattiesburg High School, was a three-star prospect without a Power Five conference offer other than Ole Miss. He was a Memphis commit for eight months before committing to Ole Miss in December and signing days later.

Just after committing to Ole Miss, he turned heads as the MVP in the MS-AL All-Star Game with 112 yards and two touchdowns.

He showed his speed with an 84-yard touchdown run against Vanderbilt. He showed his power with a strong 10-yard inside run to the Auburn 4 last Saturday. Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee scored on the next play.

Conner has rushed for 327 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 6.7 yards per carry.

His scant recruiting attention from the big schools didn’t bother him.

“I was just going with the flow. I knew something was going to come,” he said.

He was projected as a college running back and held no emotional attachment to the quarterback position. Ole Miss for much of this season had four freshman quarterbacks – Matt Corral being a redshirt freshman – and didn’t need another.

“I’m comfortable at running back and having fun with that. I’ve learned a lot. In high school I played all quarterback. I came in the spring, developed as a running back. That helped me out a lot,” Conner said.

Having Ealy in the same backfield has helped too.

“We’re always competing against each other, making each other better. That’s cool.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com

Twitter: @parrishalford

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