UK football

Jacksonville State's Ealey a familiar foe for Kentucky

Ex-Bulldog Ealey averaging 99 yards for Jacksonville State

jclay@herald-leader.comOctober 20, 2011 

Kentucky has never played Jacksonville State in the sport of college football.

It has played Washaun Ealey.

It has the bruises to prove it.

As a Georgia Bulldog last November, the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Ealey rushed for 157 yards and five touchdowns on 28 carries in a 44-31 pounding of the Cats in Commonwealth Stadium.

In fact, that was the high-water mark of his stay in Athens, two years of suspensions, costly fumbles, unfulfilled promise and, finally, a "mutual decision" early this summer that Ealey and Georgia Coach Mark Richt should part ways.

That led the Stillmore, Ga., native to Jacksonville, Ala., as a member of the JSU Gamecocks, where he is averaging 99 rushing yards and working on a string of three consecutive 100-yard-plus efforts.

"His strength is his strength itself," said Kentucky co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter this week. "He's a big kid. He's got some weight, some size and some power. He fits in well with what they do because they get him the ball downhill."

A Parade All-American, Ealey rushed for 711 yards as a true freshman for Georgia. His best game was the last regular-season game that year, when he rushed for 183 yards on 20 carries at seventh-ranked Georgia Tech.

Then the trouble started. Ealey was suspended for last year's season opener when he was involved in a hit-and-run accident while driving on a license that was suspended for an earlier offense. To make matters worse, Ealey had promised Richt he would not drive while the license was suspended.

He returned the second week, but lost his job after losing key fumbles in losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State. Ealey spent the next three games as a backup, picking up just 30 carries, including just one in a loss at Colorado, before the breakout game against Kentucky, one that was particularly dismaying for the Cats.

"It was a disappointing thing," said UK Coach Joker Phillips after the loss. "That team ran on us, and we were in a nine-man front. We had nine men in the box and we couldn't get them off the field."

If Ealey could avoid tacklers — he led Georgia in rushing for a second straight season — he couldn't avoid trouble. He was suspended in February for missing an early morning disciplinary run, then injured his hamstring four practices into spring drills and did not return.

Then in May, after several meetings with the junior-to-be, Richt and Ealey made a "mutual" decision that leaving Georgia was in Ealey's best interest.

A month later, Ealey joined the same JSU program that accepted transfer Ryan Perrilloux in 2008 when the former LSU quarterback parted ways with Les Miles.

Ealey is unavailable for interviews this week, according to Jacksonville State.

"We've been extremely lucky," JSU Coach Jack Crowe told the Birmingham News at JSU's media day earlier this year. "When you don't have a quarterback (with experience) on the depth chart and there's Perrilloux. And you get to a point where you're undefined at running back and you've got a Washaun Ealey. At some point you think, 'Well destiny's on our side.' "

That's especially true now that Ealey has grown comfortable. After gaining just 166 yards in the Gamecocks' first three games, he picked up 155 yards against Eastern Illinois, 143 at Murray State and 124 at Austin Peay in JSU's 44-14 win last Saturday.

"He's just one of many (backs) that they play," said Minter of the 5-1 Gamecocks. "They're all producers. They're all playmakers at what they're doing. They're all contributing to their good start this season."

"They've got some SEC-type players," agreed Phillips. "It's obvious, because one of them scored a lot of touchdowns on us last year."

Notes

■ Phillips said Wednesday that Collins Ukwu, sidelined the past three games with a shoulder injury, participated in individual drills in practice and has been cleared to play Saturday against Jacksonville State.

"We will use him sparingly or if it is an emergency. ... " Phillips said. "He's a guy who can hold the point in the run game. He's a violent pass rusher we've really missed out there on the edge."

■ Phillips raved about the play of freshmen linebackers Tim Patterson and Demarius Rancifer on the scout team.

"Tim Patterson just continues to show up on the scout team. He's growing, he's getting more confident. I think a lot of his confidence is coming from the work he's doing in the weight room. He's about 245 (pounds), maybe 250. He looks really good. He's healthy. Rancifer is one of the guys we think will be a big-time leader around here."

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