Homecoming

I’Tavius Mathers has been at Ole Miss going on three seasons of football. Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt will mark his third time to be “back home” with the Rebels.

Mathers, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior, played his high school football in Murfreesboro, Tenn., at Blackman High School.

He’s lettered two seasons at Ole Miss. In 2012, the first year under Hugh Freeze and staff, Mathers played in all 13 games, either as a running back or on special teams. His statistics were limited, however, and he had 208 rushing yards on 27 carries with one touchdown. He returned three kicks for 20 yards.

In 2013, Mathers was involved in the action even more, playing in 12 of the Rebels’ 13 games. The one he missed, however, was meaningful for Mathers. It was also in Nashville, a dramatic 39-35 UM win against the Commodores.

Mathers was nursing an ankle injury back to health and missed the season opener at Dudley Field. But he played in the remainder of the games last season, including Ole Miss’ 25-17 win against Georgia Tech at LP Field in the Music City Bowl.

That late December day, Mathers gained 58 rushing yards on 13 carries and posted career highs in receptions with five and receiving yards with 49. That’s the same field the Rebels will face Vanderbilt on this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Mathers is ready for the return to the home of the Tennessee Titans.

“I’m looking forward to playing back home again against Vandy, especially for the people who haven’t seen me play there yet,” said Mathers, who led the team in rushing in 2013 with 563 yards, was fourth on the team in rushing touchdowns with three, and also caught 10 passes for 83 yards. “It will be good to play up there again.”

The Rebels are hoping to make it three wins in their last three games in Nashville. Mathers and his running back mates are planning to do their part. With Jaylen Walton, Jordan Wilkins, Mark Dodson, and Mathers available, the Rebels are deep at the position.

Mathers, who carried the ball eight times for 17 yards against Boise State, said while one might think it’s hard to get in a rhythm and stay there with as many potential running backs that can play, that really isn’t the case.

“It’s not really difficult,” he said. “You’ve just got to know when you go in to be ready to go. Hopefully you can make something happen while you’re in.”

If not, there is someone waiting that might just make something happen.

One of those is Wilkins, at 6-1 and 209 likely the most punishing one of the group.

“He’s improved a lot to me,” Mathers said of Wilkins. “I really like his style. He’s very physical. He’s able to make the first couple of guys miss. I like the way he can push the pile and get the extra yards.”

The Rebels need the pile pushed. In the season opener last week, Ole Miss won 35-13 but had only 71 yards on the ground.

Carrying the football isn’t all those players do. But it’s the most noticeable. There’s also the aspect that often goes unnoticed – pass protection.

“I think we did pretty good for the most part,” Mathers said of that department. “I think we had like two missed assignments. But we’re not going to have a perfect game. I think we did alright.”

He also felt like the runners did a good job when they had the football. But he knows they’ll have to find ways to get more yardage as the competition gets tougher and Southeastern Conference play is upon them.

“We missed a couple of holes,” he said of the offensive rushing plays against the Broncos. “You won’t find a big run on every play. We just need to be patient and look for our assignment. Look for the gap and hopefully it’s there. Just do our assignments and be ready to go whenever we’re called on.”

Mathers also believes the Rebels can fix the unfortunate and sometimes costly miscues, like the illegal procedures and other offensive mistakes that draw the flags of the officials.

“I think we can turn that around,” he said. “First game jitters and some movement on the (BSU) defensive side, and that was most of it.”

Vanderbilt lost its opener at its campus home to Temple 37-7. Few saw that type lopsided loss by the home team coming.

Mathers figures the Commodores will be in a frame of mind to correct that situation against the Rebels in their first SEC game of the 2014 season.

“They’re a pretty good team,” he said of Vandy. “They’re good at what they do.”

Ole Miss and Vanderbilt hope they’ll both be better at what they do this Saturday in downtown Nashville.


OM Spirit Top Stories