By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With little depth at running back when the season began, it was thought that one of the freshmen might have to play a key role.
As it turned out, there weren’t many carries for I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton in SEC play.
That changed in the BBVA Compass Bowl as starting tailback Jeff Scott sustained a hamstring injury in the second quarter, and the reserves took on more of the game plan.
Mathers did most of his work late and finished as the game’s leading rusher with 96 yards on six carries, most coming on a 62-yard touchdown run with 8 minutes, 48 seconds to play, the last Ole Miss points of the day.
When Scott first went out Walton showed himself to be a capable fill-in, running well after contact and finishing with 56 yards on 10 carries.
Walton was big in the return game too with 83 yards on two attempts, his 49-yard kick return giving the Rebels a short field for a touchdown drive to take a 21-7 lead after the Panthers had just gotten on the board.
“Jeff pulled a hamstring and was not able to go. We played Jaylen any time we had a chance during the year,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “We have great confidence in both he and I’Tavius. They gave us a spark and proved today that they are two quality backs.”
Randall Mackey, the No. 2 running back, made an impact even before Scott’s injury.
Mackey finished with 36 yards on eight carries and showed some toughness on the inside runs.
He also had a diving touchdown catch of a Bo Wallace pass, the play covering 27 yards and giving Ole Miss a 14-0 lead with 5 minutes, 22 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Rebels finished with 387 yards of offense against a Pittsburgh defensed ranked No. 16 in the country.
Ole Miss rushed for 224 yards on 49 carries.