By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
With one game to play, it’s not “next year” yet for Ole Miss. While the success of this year was unexpected by many – lagniappe, they would call it in my native land – there was an energy about “next year” that permeated the cyber world of Ole Miss fans late Saturday night as they celebrated a 41-24 win over rival Mississippi State.
While living in the moment was sweet, the energy boost came from Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, who told reporters his brother Robert Nkemdiche, a defensive end and the nation’s No. 1 recruit, would commit to the Rebels in two weeks.
This could end up being really good news for Ole Miss, but should be met with cautious optimism. Typically, true freshman don’t move mountains upon arrival.
Let’s say for the sake of argument, however, that Robert Nkemdiche is the uncommon sort of recruit who does. Say he commits, follows through with his commitment and signs, and that he’s a starter and an impact player from the first game of 2013.
This is highly speculative and depends on the work ethic of young players and the coaching of those in charge of them.
But just say Robert Nkemdiche is that special player, and that Aberdeen’s Channing Ward develops into the talent many believe he will.
Ward did not have a dominant freshman season. He qualified late and was not a part of off-season workouts or very much preseason practice. You could see the skill when he was on the field, and he’s recorded 17.5 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss.
Say Nkemdiche is the real deal. Say Ward develops.
Then add Nick Brassell, who Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has already identified as an “NFL corner.”
It’s a defense that’s already earning a personality as strong against the run.
Add more pass rush, more skill in the secondary, experience for young players like Cody Prewitt, Trae Elston and Mike Hilton, and perhaps another impact freshman in Antonio Connor of South Panola.
You also add D.T. Shackelford. It’s not clear what that means after two knee surgeries, but Shackelford can possibly further strengthen a defense with depth issues at many positions.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Texas rushed for 350 yards and put up almost 700 total against the Rebels.
Rebels getting better
Improvement came gradually and Ole Miss is giving up 114 yards a game, 3.02 yards per carry, over its last six games.
There are a lot of moving parts in that scenario, but defensive coordinator Dave Wommack took moving parts this season and has molded a pretty good unit with a high ceiling for improvement.
Part of improvement is adding potential difference-makers like Nkemdiche then adding the necessary pieces around him. That may begin to happen in the coming weeks.
That’s why Ole Miss fans, euphoric with the present Saturday night, find just as much intrigue with the future.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.