When Cordera Eason picked up 17 yards on a second-and-6 play late in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game against Auburn, the junior from Meridian, Miss., picked up more than a critical first down.
Eason's 17-yard scamper put him over the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in his college career. Eason finished with 104 yards on 14 carries in Ole Miss' 17-7 win over Auburn.
"It felt good to get the monkey off my back," Eason said. "It had been awhile, since high school, since I had a 100-yard game. It felt good. I give all my credit to the offensive line. They did a great job of opening up holes for me. They got me to the second level. That's all I told them to do. I told them to get me to the second level and I'd take care of it from there. They did their job and I did mine. We came together as a unit. They dominated the line of scrimmage and that made it real easy."
Midway through the season, it didn't appear that Eason was going to get enough carries to pass the century mark. Eason had just six carries for 13 yards in a win at Florida, 10 rushes for 29 yards in a loss to South Carolina and three rushes for just six yards in a loss at Alabama. While Eason's carries went down, freshmen Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis saw their rushing loads increase.
"I really think the first open date (between the Rebels' games against South Carolina and Alabama) is when those freshman backs kind of made a move," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "Enrique Davis goes to Alabama and has a good game. Well, Cordera comes back that Sunday and instead of pouting, he went to work. I feel like the freshmen motivated him. I am a little surprised he is where he is, because I thought the freshman would surpass him. He has worked extremely hard, and he is running with a lot power and authority right now. You also have to give the offensive line credit. They are getting better."
Eason's resurgence began with an 81-yard performance in a win at Arkansas and then with Saturday's effort against Auburn.
"In camp, I was hitting the hole hard, but you can't compare practice to game speed," Eason said. "It's totally different. Going into the games, I wasn't making the right reads. I was just cutting off of air and it made it seem like I wasn't hitting the hole. As time went on, I started finding my right reads and once I found them, I was able to go full-speed."
As for the competition from Bolden, Davis and _ to some extent _ Dexter McCluster, Eason said he "didn't take it personally. They're out here to play, just like I'm out here to play. It just made me even hungrier. I came out here, practiced as hard as I can and when the game came, I just tried to show up.
"I knew I wasn't playing to the best of my ability. I knew that and I knew they were capable of coming up. I still came out here every day and gave it my all, and I guess Coach saw me busting it and trying to get better and improve. I guess that's what kept me in the rotation."
Saturday's day was made even better when Davis' high school teammate, Derrick Davis, caught a touchdown pass from Jevan Snead to increase the Rebels' fourth-quarter lead to 10 points.
"I was happy, man," Eason said. "I was standing on the sidelines jumping up and down. Then we were on the sidelines hugging. It made everybody feel glad for him to see him work as hard as he does and to get his first touchdown. It just made it more special to happen against a team like Auburn and in the situation it was in."
Ole Miss (5-4 overall, 3-3 in the Southeastern Conference) is off this week. The Rebels return to action with a Nov. 15 date against Louisiana-Monroe before wrapping up conference play with a Nov. 22 trip to LSU and a Nov. 28 home game against Mississippi State.
"We just can't let go of the rope," Eason said. "We beat Florida and then let go of the rope against South Carolina. We have to be more consistent. This is our first winning streak and we have to keep it going. Like Coach Nutt is always says, 'People remember November.' We're going to live by that saying. Louisiana-Monroe won't be a walk-through. We have to play like we're playing against Florida."