Ole Miss defense realizes each week will be tough
After No. 3 Ole Miss beat Vanderbilt 27-16 on Saturday night to stay undefeated, head football coach Hugh Freeze mentioned his team had some banged up bodies on both sides of the football following the Rebels’ 43-37 win over Alabama just a week ago.
But Freeze didn’t use that as an excuse for why his team performed somewhat below his standards against the Commodores.
“If we want to be elite, we have to prepare like we are an elite football team,” Freeze said on Saturday. “We need leadership in the locker room to help us with that, for sure.”
Did the win over the Crimson Tide have an effect on the team’s performance against the Commodores? Did Ole Miss overlook Vanderbilt’s quest for victory?
Middle linebacker C.J. Johnson doesn’t think so.
“I thought we had a good week of practice. I felt like Tuesday was the best practice we have had since the season started,” said Johnson, who had six total tackles, two quarterback hurries and one pass breakup against the Commodores. “We had a few mistakes on Wednesday; we weren’t as sharp, but Thursday the focus was sharp again and Friday we had a good walk through.”
Vandy QB earns praise from Rebels’ C. J. Johnson
At times, the defense had difficulty bringing down Vanderbilt’s sophomore quarterback Johnny McCrary, who avoided a lot of sacks and was able to extend plays with his athleticism. McCrary also kept the Rebels’ defense guessing, not knowing when he was going to pass or sprint into the open field for yardage.
McCrary showed how potent and proficient he could be as a starting quarterback in the Southeastern Conference when he guided the Commodores (1-3, 0-2 SEC) on a 7-play, 80-yard scoring drive midway through the third quarter to tie the game 13-all. McCrary capped off the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to running back Ralph Webb, who started the drive with a big 43-yard run to the Ole Miss’ 37.
C.J. Johnson gave credit to McCrary, who completed 23 of 42 passes for 194 yards and rushed for 14 yards on seven carries, for playing a competitive game from start to finish.
“He’s a good guy; he’s a good quarterback,” Johnson said. “Watching them on film, we knew it would be a tough game for us, but when you watched them, they had just a couple of breaks that didn’t go their way. Other than that, a couple of bounces they probably would have won a couple of more games. They are a really good team and they showed us that.”
Denzel Nkemdiche excels in Vandy game
As the game continued, McCrary’s legs weren’t his best friend, and he found himself in the middle of a jungle with a swarm of Rebels (4-0, 2-0 SEC) coming his way. McCrary saw senior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche more often than not, and it forced McCrary into some hurry-up, incomplete passes.
Denzel Nkemdiche had a game-high 14 total tackles (12 solo), two tackles for losses and one quarterback hurry. He felt it was a must to get to McCrary and rattle him a little bit to offset a Vanderbilt offense that’s averaging 412 yards a game.
As for Nkemdiche, he is used to playing against the best on Saturdays.
As a senior and someone who’s been in those type of environments, I let my teammates understand that we’re going to get everybody’s best. Everybody is going to play their best against us.
— Denzel Nkemdiche
Feature image credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk