By Brandon Speck
OXFORD – Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche played for the first time Saturday since injuring his hamstring while chasing Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel on Oct. 12.
Then the freshman – and former top national recruit – got ejected with Ole Miss’ 34-24 win against Arkansas all but decided with 4:19 left in the fourth quarter.
Nkemdiche was caught shoving an Arkansas offensive lineman after a touchdown cut the Rebels’ lead to 10.
“(Referee Tom) Ritter just told me that he hit him after the play was over and it was vicious enough he thought he needed to be ejected,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.
Nkemdiche told older brother and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche it was retaliation.
Freeze wasn’t sure immediately after the game if there would be any further league punishment, but said he didn’t think there would be.
“We’ll look at it on tape and there will probably be something within here that we’ll get corrected hopefully. I don’t mind mistakes and our motto is you don’t blink and you move forward and play the next play, but you don’t do a selfish act that hurts our football team. We’ll love on him, but make sure he understands that.”
Nkemdiche had a pedestrian day after a two-game break. He played inside and out and was one of five Rebels with four tackles. He also had one tackle for loss. He came into the day as the Rebels’ seventh-leading tackler with 26. Nkemdiche eased gingerly off the field once in the first half, but rode the bike and returned.
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said he likes the flexibility of being able to move the listed defensive end inside.
“I think he’s got some rust on him,” Wommack said. “Freshman I think in some ways, you feel like you’re starting over with some of the stuff he does. He’s a freshman and such a big, physical force, everybody expects him to be what he’s going to be in the future. He’s just got to keep coming.”