OXFORD – Basking in the glow of Thursday’s dramatic SEC win on opening night, Ole Miss fans were able to awaken Saturday and celebrate being atop the Western Division standings.
The first bad news since the Rebels got a 75-yard touchdown run with 1 minute, 7 seconds left to beat Vanderbilt 39-35 also came Saturday.
Two starters sustained serious injuries in the game, and one, junior left guard Aaron Morris, will be lost for the year with a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament (ACL).
Outside linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, also a junior, won’t be gone that long but is expected to be out four to six weeks after surgery on his meniscus (knee).
Morris spent the off-season recovering from shoulder surgery. He was dropped to second team for a few days in camp in favor of senior Jared Duke but quickly regained the position he’s held since his freshman year.
Duke was listed second on the first game chart, but freshman Austin Golson got a lot of playing time in Nashville.
Junior Justin Bell, who has missed some practice this month with a back injury, started at right guard.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Saturday it’s possible that one of his senior tackles, Emmanuel McCray or Pierce Burton, could move to guard.
“We also need Junen to get well,” Freeze said.
Such a move would put freshman Laremy Tunsil in the starting lineup at left tackle.
Nkemdiche’s back-up is junior Serderius Bryant who did not play against Vanderbilt.
It’s possible that Nkemdiche, second-team All-SEC last season, could return for the Rebels’ Oct. 5 trip to Auburn. Freeze called that a “best case” scenario.
Nkemdiche was the Rebels’ leading tackler last year and had five against Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss plays at home Saturday night at 6 against Southeast Missouri State. The Rebels then begin a stretch of road games against Texas, Alabama and Auburn. There’s an open date on Sept. 21 before the Alabama game.