By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton both increased their stock just prior to meeting Ole Miss fans for the first time.
The freshmen running backs provided most of the highlights in an hour-and-a-half scrimmage at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium before moving to the indoor practice facility for Meet The Rebels activities.
It was the second major scrimmage of August camp and in some unfortunate ways a repeat of the first one for Bo Wallace, vying with Barry Brunetti to become the starting quarterback.
Wallace almost escaped the workout without throwing an interception, but in the red zone work he stayed in the pocket under pressure and threw a ball into the end zone that was picked and returned for a touchdown by safety Cody Prewitt.
It was also Prewitt who spoiled Wallace’s day last Saturday with an interception at the goalline.
Barry Brunetti, likewise, had not thrown committed a turnover until he was picked off in the end zone by safety Denzel Nkemdiche on the last play of the scrimmage.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze liked what he saw in the big picture.
“I thought the quarterbacks played OK. There were a couple of things obviously I’m not happy with, but they were a little more consistent today,” Freeze said.
Both quarterbacks found sophomore receiver Donte Moncrief for touchdowns.
In red zone work, Moncrief was closely covered by freshman defensive back Trae Elston when he out-worked the freshman for a Brunetti pass on a 5-yard end zone fade route.
Seconds later Wallace found Moncrief in single coverage on the left side. Moncrief caught the ball at the 5 and scored to complete the 20-yard play.
Wallace led two touchdown drives during regular work, one capped by Mathers’ 2-yard run – one of his three touchdowns on the day – the other finished with his own 12-yard run.
He finished 14 for 25 for 85 yards with a pass touchdown, rush touchdown and an interception.
Brunetti did not lead a touchdown drive when the entire field was involved. He was 6-for-13 for 53 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Most of the highlights came in the run game, the biggest being Mathers’ 58-yard run off left guard. He quickly reached the second level of the defense, then outran defenders to the end zone. That run came with Maikhail Miller at quarterback and a mix of defensive reserves on the field.
Mathers also scored on a 3-yard run in the overtime period, the drive led by Wallace.
Mathers finished with 100 yards on 13 carries, and Walton added 31 on six attempts.
The workout got a lot of reps for the freshmen. Junior Jeff Scott was held out. Senior Randall Mackey, the converted quarterback, carried sparingly but that was enough to get him notice. He showed a burst of speed on the first possession when he side-stepped Elston and ran for 35 yards.
Freeze says he’s “crazy” about his freshman backs and leaning toward playing both, though a redshirt for one remains an option.
Not everyone was excited about the success of Mathers and Walton. Co-defensive coordinator Dave Wommack called out his players.
“Most of them are on scholarship here. They need to earn it, and they need to go full speed with effort. I didn’t think we did that today. I was very disappointed in their effort,” he said.