While Ole Miss senior running back Jeff Scott has had a stellar season—minus recent setbacks from a deep thigh bruise—young thoroughbreds I’Tavius Mathers andJaylen Walton have deservedly begun to turn heads in Oxford and across the SEC.
Through the first eight games of 2012, Scott averaged 14.1 carries for 87.4 rushing yards per game. Behind Scott last season, only three Rebels had rushed 20-plus times over the same period.
More specifically, all-purpose athlete Randall Mackey averaged 6.5 carries for 27.5YPG, starting quarterback Bo Wallace averaged 11.4 carries for 32.9 YPG and reserve QB Barry Brunetti averaged 4.3 carries for 23.3 YPG.
Together, those four Rebels scored 16 rushing touchdowns and averaged just over 36 carries per game for 171.1 YPG on the ground through this same point last season.
Through the first eight games of 2013, the Rebels have five players with not 20-plus, but 35-plus carries.
While Scott, Wallace and Brunetti remain in the mix again this fall, sophomore running backs Mathers (5’11”, 189 pounds) and Walton (5’8″, 166 pounds) have stepped in and made a major impact for the Ole Miss offense.
Not only is their added production helping Ole Miss move the ball more efficiently, but the two sophomore stars are taking pressure off Scott to carry the load out of the backfield.
Despite seeing the majority of their rushes while Scott has been sidelined with injury, their efforts are impressive nonetheless.
Mathers is averaging 46.6 rushing YPG (6.8 YPC) while Walton is averaging 40.1 YPG(5.0 YPC). Furthermore, the two backs have put the ball over the goal line a combined seven times this fall.
Over their last two outings in Scott’s absence (vs. LSU, Idaho), Mathers has averaged an impressive 94.5 YPG and Walton has put up 96 YPG on the ground.
Between Scott, Wallace, Brunetti, Mathers and Walton, the five-headed Ole Miss rushing attack is generating 203.1 YPG on the ground on roughly the same number of total rushes per contest (36) as that of only four Rebels through eight games last season.
The bottom line is that the emergence of Mathers and Walton in the run game has helped and most importantly will continue to make for a fresher and more efficient Ole Miss rushing attack.
While the Rebels face off against Arkansas’ 71st-ranked run defense next weekend, Ole Miss’ final three regular-season contests come against run defenses currently ranked No. 36 (Troy, 139.9 YPG), No. 16 (Missouri, 111.4 YPG) and No. 48 (Miss State, 146.3 YPG).
With Scott having rested against Idaho and benefiting from an open week this Saturday, the senior speedster should return healthy when the Razorbacks come to town.
If that happens while Mathers and Walton can continue their levels of play, a dynamic Ole Miss ground game should give opposing defenses all they can handle and then some.
Mathers and Walton may be the future of the Rebels’ run game, but they’re starting to shine right now.
–Seph Anderson, Sportswriter to The South, covers timely Ole Miss, SEC, & national news from the sports world. @SephAnderson