BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Morgan Ellison found Indiana’s starting tailback spotlight in his first college start.
And the freshman was more than ready.
Ellison was the offensive catalyst as the Hoosiers dominated Georgia Southern 52-17 Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The 6-1, 225-pound Ellison ran for 186 yards on 25 carries and scored two touchdowns. He’s IU’s 11th true freshman to rush for more than 100 yards in a game. It’s the fourth-best total by a Hoosier freshman. Anthony Thompson has the record with 207.
Ellison entered the game with 71 yards on 19 carries.
The Hoosiers’ Mike Majette had started the first two games at tailback.
“I’m really proud of Morgan,” coach Tom Allen said. “He carried the ball well. He ran hard. He had the fourth-highest total by a freshman in school history, and the offensive line was a big reason.”
“I got a couple of good runs and thought, ‘Let’s keep going, let’s keep going,'” Ellison said.
Ellison wasn’t highly recruited coming out of Pickerington High School in Ohio, in part because he missed most of his sophomore and junior seasons due to broken legs. Still, as a healthy senior he rushed for 1,841 yards and 29 touchdowns.
“I thought I had to prove something after breaking my legs twice in high school.”
On Saturday Ellison benefited from an offensive adjustment designed to spark the running game.
“We knew (Georgia Southern’s) defensive line was their strength,” Allen said. “We knew it would be tough. We tried to spread them out and run out of that look. It was very efficient.”
Indiana got another big game from punt returner J-Shun Harris. The junior returned a first-quarter punt 70 yards for a touchdown. It was the second straight game he scored on a punt return. That tied IU’s single-season record. Rob Turner was the other Hoosier to return punts for a TD in consecutive games. He did it in 1990.
Two other Hoosiers have returned two punts for touchdowns in a season — Mitchell Paige (2015) and Larry Highbaugh (1969).
Harris, who won Big Ten special teams player of the week honors for his Virginia performance (he had 44- and 42-yard punt returns), has returned seven punts for 183 yards this season after gaining 74 yards on two returns Saturday.
He had missed the previous two seasons because of knee injuries.
“How about J-Shun,” Allen said. “That kid is unreal. They’re probably going to quit punting to him. He’s making them pay. What a great story.”
Indiana (2-1) was playing its first game after an unexpected bye. The Sept. 16 home game against Florida International was cancelled in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Georgia Southern (0-3) has been outscored 115-36 this season, but coach Tyson Summers liked the effort.
“I think we continued to fight,” Summers said. “We had an attitude and belief throughout the game that they would continue to play and play well.”
Allen got his first home victory as a college head coach. His first overall college win came two weeks ago at Virginia.
The Hoosiers’ decisive first quarter, which included a rotation between quarterbacks Richard Lagow and Peyton Ramsey, produced a 21-0 lead. After going up 31-0 early in the second quarter, defensive starters were rotated in and out, allowing younger players to get significant action.
Lagow and Ramsey combined to go 11-for-21 for 185 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That included Lagow’s 71-yard third-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Ian Thomas.
Georgia Southern was led by tailback L.A. Ramsby’s 108 rushing yards.
Indiana: The Hoosiers needed to prove they could get the running game going, which meant the offensive line needed to dominate. Mission accomplished, in part because of the return of right tackle Brandon Knight from injury. IU rushed for 282 yards, 185 yards in the first half. It entered game last in the Big Ten with a 69.9-yard average.
Georgia Southern: The Eagles were searching for offense after averaging a worst-in-the-nation 202 total yards in the first two games. They’re still searching, although improvement is coming. They totaled 375 yards against IU. They committed 13 penalties for 108 yards.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN: Eagles punter Matt Flynn averaged 45.9 yards on eight punts.
INDIANA: The Hoosiers, who had not forced a turnover in their first two games, recovered three fumbles. The final one came late in the fourth quarter when defensive back Andre Brown ripped the ball away from a receiver and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown. Also, 15 of IU’s 16 possessions lasted less than three minutes.
INSIGHT BOWL TEAM HONORED
Members of IU’s last bowl team, the 2007 squad that played in the Insight Bowl, were honored between the first and second quarters. That team, inspired by the death of coach Terry Hoeppner six months earlier after a battle with cancer, went 7-5 in the regular season before losing to Oklahoma State in Arizona. It was IU’s first bowl since 1993. Hoeppner’s wife, Jane, was among those in attendance.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN: Heads home Oct. 4 for Sun Belt Conference opener against Arkansas State.
INDIANA: Travels to No. 4 Penn State on Sept. 30 to resume Big Ten action.