Ealey did yeoman’s work Saturday in the Gamecocks’ 38-35 Homecoming win over Murray State. He carried 37 times – second most in program history – for 146 yards and three touchdowns. He was named OVC Player of the Week for it.
The Georgia transfer has had 70 carries the last two weeks, but with DaMarcus James (concussion) and Troymaine Pope (knee) both still out he was the Gamecocks’ only option for a reliable running game.
Crowe said James and Pope could be back for this week’s OVC showdown at UT Martin and its passing quarterback Derek Carr who he called “the best player in the league, no question.” But he wasn’t committing.
“I expect by Thursday to have DaMarcus and Troymaine, but who knows,” Crowe said. “Their mommas need to understand if it’s gray (uncertain for their long-term health), we’re not putting them out there. It appears we may have a full contingent, but we’re going to wait and see.”
Pope didn’t play Saturday and had only two carries the week before against Tennessee State. His injury isn’t related to the knee he hurt at Eastern Kentucky. James, who has three 100-yard rushing games this season, hasn’t played since getting hurt at Eastern Illinois.
Their absences have thrust the burden of the ground game on Ealey at a time the Gamecocks (5-3, 4-2) need it to control the clock. It also forced Crowe to take the redshirt off true freshman Miles Jones, who helped the cause Saturday with 36 yards on eight carries.
Ealey’s carries have increased every game this season. Before these last two games, the most he had carried it in his two seasons at JSU was 28 times — last year at Murray in the third of three straight games of 20-plus carries.
The most he carried in any game at Georgia also was 28 times — in his five-touchdown performance against Kentucky. He carried it 20 times there only two times.
In his 13-year tenure at JSU, Crowe has given a back more than 25 carries 18 times, one time going three full seasons without that occurrence. Only six times has a back had at least 30 carries — Ealey and Rondy Rogers each twice, Calvin Middleton and Oscar Bonds once each — and the Gamecocks are 5-1 in those games.
“I think there’s a diminishing return after 30 (carries),” Crowe said. “I don’t like putting a guy there because the talent diminishes because of the fatigue factor, but let me tell you if anybody questions the guts and commitment of Washaun Ealey to Jacksonville State University they need to rethink it because what he did to get 1, 2 and 3 yards was for the university; it wasn’t for Washaun.”
Ealey picked up 42 yards on his carries after No. 25. He had a 15-yard gain on No. 28 and a 16-yard gain on No. 30. He gained 10 yards on runs 31 through 33 against Tennessee State to crash the 100-yard barrier for the second straight game.
“When you get past 25 carries, you’re running on guts – G-U-T-S,” Crowe said. “You can’t make anybody miss. You can’t outrun anybody. There’s nothing left, the tank is empty.
“I don’t want to do it to him, but I have enormous respect for somebody who has the capacity to do it. Most guys fold before they get to that point. Washaun Ealey is in a category with me that he’s in the elite, not because of the yardage, but because of his mentality. I know a bunch of running backs coaches who’d love to have him.”
Ealey said he feels the effects of that much work, but he credited the coaches for preparing him during the week to carry such a load and giving him enough rest during the game to get him through it.
“I do a lot of stuff early in the mornings with Coach (Thomas) Twitty,” Ealey said of the Gamecocks’ first-year personal performance assistant. “He’s really been helping me a lot, just working on my range of motion and stuff like that, just really getting me prepared to take the load, take a beating. I really feel like I prepare myself.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @JSUSports_Star.