By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Ole Miss will welcome back one of its most important freshmen at a most opportune time.
Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, last year’s national No. 1-ranked recruit, missed the last two games recovering from a stretched hamstring he sustained while chasing Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel on Oct. 12.
At the time, Freeze said he was hopeful to get Nkemdiche back after the open date.
Recovery has proceeded on schedule, and Nkemdiche will be in the mix Saturday morning against an Arkansas team that Freeze calls “scary” in spite of its six-game losing streak and 0-5 SEC mark.
As they try to nail down a sixth win and bowl eligibility, the Rebels (5-3, 2-3 SEC) also return linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche – Robert’s older brother – and cornerback Mike Hilton to their defense.
Led by freshman Alex Collins, the SEC’s fourth-leading rusher at 98.8 yards a game, Arkansas (3-6, 0-5) is the league’s No. 3 rushing team (211.2 ypg).
The Razorbacks, though, are last in the league in scoring offense (20.0 ppg) and next to last in scoring defense (31.1 ppg).
“If they ever convert drives they will be very, very dangerous, because they control time of possession, and they run the ball extremely well,” Freeze said.
It’s possible that junior Bryon Bennett, the starting defensive tackle before the injuries set in, will remain at end to keep bulk and athleticism on the edge.
Nkemdiche has 15 tackles, four tackles for loss, a couple of pass break-ups and a pressure. He’s also made a start at defensive tackle and has been able to tie up blockers if he doesn’t make the play himself.
His conditioning could be a problem and will be carefully monitored during the game, Freeze said.
“That will be something we will watch closely,” Freeze said. “The snaps these other guys have had, I don’t think he has to play an enormous amount of snaps in the game, but if he can be really effective in the snaps he does play, that’s going to pay dividends for us.”