As Cole Gest tried to reflect on the performance he delivered on Saturday, he couldn't help but chuckle in disbelief.
The redshirt freshman running back had just picked up his first career 100-yard rushing effort. He led the Hoosiers in carries for the second game in a row and was half of IU’s two-headed ground attack that ran all over Rutgers in a 41-0 victory.
To Gest, it all felt surreal.
“It’s amazing,” Gest said. “Who ever thought that I would be playing Big Ten football, honestly?”
The 5-foot-8 Gest — who missed most of last season with an injury and received a medical redshirt — may not strike fear in the heart of opponents upon first glance. But Rutgers had every reason to be scared of the diminutive running back whenever he touched the ball Saturday.
Along with fellow freshman running back Morgan Ellison, Gest helped IU rush for 271 yards during a windy, rain-soaked afternoon in Bloomington. Gest contributed 104 yards and a touchdown, while Ellison gained 149 yards to go with two touchdowns of his own.
On a day where IU’s senior-laden defense pitched a shutout, it was freshmen that shined on offense.
“I just love how hard they run, how downhill they run and how decisive they run,” IU Coach Tom Allen said.
Ellison and Gest took turns dominating stretches of the game, particularly in the second half when IU ran the ball incessantly as weather became a bigger factor.
On one third-quarter drive, Gest ran the ball six times for 24 yards before being substituted out. Ellison came in to replace him and promptly sprinted 45 yards down to the one-yard line, where he punched it in two plays later.
In the fourth quarter, a similar series unfolded in reverse. Ellison ran four straight times for 43 yards and was swapped out for Gest, who took it the last 14 yards on three carries before scoring IU’s final touchdown of the day.
The entire game was a perfect joint effort for the friends, who are roommates during IU road trips.
“We always challenge each other to do better,” Ellison said. “We don’t ever say who’s going to do better, or ‘Oh I did better than you.’ It’s always just, ‘We’ve both got to do this.’”
After IU struggled so frequently and consistently with its rushing attack at the start of Big Ten play, the Hoosiers have now picked up 438 yards on the ground in the past two games.
Gest and Ellison have led that charge and will look to continue doing so when IU heads to Purdue next week for a rivalry game and a shot at bowl eligibility.
It’ll be the first Old Oaken Bucket that Ellison and Gest have ever played for, but with increasing confidence and production levels, they figure to play an important part as the Hoosiers look to keep up their strong rushing attack.
“It’s good that we’re getting the balance,” Ellison said. “I just think it’s good for the team so we can find our base.”
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