With all the hoopla surrounding the very talented trio of freshmen running backs - Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis and Devin Thomas - junior Ole Miss Tailback Cordera Eason wasn't given much of a chance to retain the number one slot he earned in spring.
And in the early part of the season - with Bolden coming on strong initially and Davis making a mid-season push - it appeared that "prediction" of Eason taking a back seat might come to pass.
But after the Alabama game, where Davis was the leading rusher, Cordera asserted himself, to the delight of the Rebel coaching staff, and has ripped off back-to-back impressive starts against Arkansas, with 81 yards, and Auburn, his first 100-yard rushing performance as a collegian.
"After the Alabama game, it would have been easy for Cordera to go in a shell with those freshmen coming on strong," said Rebel Coach Houston Nutt. "But he didn't do that. He came back to practice even more dedicated and worked even harder.
"To be honest, I thought there was a chance those freshmen might push Cordera to the side sometime during this year, but he hasn't allowed that to happen. He has worked and competed and it paid off for him the past couple of games. There's still great competition at that position, but right now he's still the top guy there."
Eason was pleased to get his first 100-yard rushing game against Auburn.
"That kind of got the monkey off my back. It's been since high school since I had a 100-yard game and it felt good, but like I said after the game, I credit my offensive line," Eason said. "They did a great job opening up the holes.
"I told them if they could get me to the second level (linebackers) I would do the rest. They did their job and I did mine. We came together as a unit."
What's the difference in the Eason of late and the Eason that started the season off kind of feeling his way?
"In camp, I was hitting the holes hard and doing some good things, but camp is not like a game. In the games early on, I was not making the right reads and I wasn't hitting the holes as hard as I should have," he explained. "As I got more playing time, I started making the right reads and hitting the holes full speed. It makes a lot of difference. The holes were there all along, I just wasn't making the right reads. The offensive line has been opening the holes all year. I think recently they have become more dominant than they were early in the year, but the early part of the season was on me."
Eason kept competing when the freshmen were breathing down his back for some of his playing time.
"I'd have good days and bad days, but I kept competing and kept my head up. It's not personal with any of us - it's just competition, and I'm a competitor," Eason noted. "It's all about working hard and earning your playing time.
"I know those guys are great players and I know they are capable of taking my spot, but I worked hard to get to this point and I wasn't going to just give it up. I worked hard, got better and the coaches saw enough in me to keep me in the rotation."
The Auburn game not only resulted in Eason's first 100-yard game, it produced an opportunity for his best friend, Derrick Davis, to score the touchdown that put the game, essentially, away. Davis has played very little this year, other than special teams.
"I was jumping up and down on the sidelines. I was so happy for Derrick. He has worked very hard and I was glad to see him get a reward like that in a critical game at a critical time," Eason smiled.
The Rebels are a confident bunch now, Eason said.
"We know we can't let go of the rope. We beat Florida and didn't take care of business against South Carolina because we didn't know how to handle success then," Cordera stated. "We learned a lesson. Now, we have won two games in a row and have our first winning streak. We have to keep it going.
"Coach Nutt always talks about remembering November and we are living by that. We have Louisiana-Monroe next and we can't take them lightly. They beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last year, something we weren't able to do this year. We will compete like we are playing Florida - we have to. We are still a developing team. We are starting to put things together some, but we aren't where we could be and that's our goal."
Eason is glad the Rebels are having an open week this week.
"I think the open week is coming at a perfect time. We've had three really physical games in a row and we are a little bruised up. We can get everyone 100% for the stretch run and go into the last three games fresh and ready to finish the regular season off the right way," he closed.
Cordera Eason -
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