The I-train is pulling out of Oxford. Running back I'Tavius Mathers told The Murfeesboro Daily Journal he plans to transfer away from Ole Miss for his senior season. The news comes less than a week after word broke that Mark Dodson is transferring to Memphis. A once jam-packed backfield is gradually thinning out.
Mathers didn't say where he plans to go.
The news isn't necessarily surprising when you consider the precipitous decline in Mathers' touches down the stretch this season. After leading the team with 563 yards on 95 carries in 2013, he dropped to 67 carries this season. In the final two regular season games against Arkansas and Mississippi State, Mathers had a grand total of two carries, though he did notch seven in the Peach Bowl Massacre.
It's been clear for a while that Mathers was playing second fiddle to Jaylen Walton, but it's the emergence of Jordan Wilkins that may have ultimately pushed him out the door. Given his late season surge, Wilkins is probably set to team with Walton as the primary one-two punch next season, leaving Mathers as the third wheel. Mathers is too similar to Walton -- a diminutive scat back -- and the 6'1, 209-pound Wilkins adds a better change of pace.
It doesn't help that four-star running back prospect Eric Swinney is poised to sign with Ole Miss in February.
It's hard to say that losing a talented runner like Mathers is a good thing for Hugh Freeze, but it's not necessarily a bad thing either. If anything, this helps focus the fuzzy backfield picture and should give some of the younger guys (redshirt sophomore Eugene Brazley and redshirt junior Akeem Judd will also be back) a chance to emerge.
Mathers saw the writing on the wall and got out while he still has eligibility to use.