OXFORD – When he met with local media for the first time in August, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said he wished he could redshirt both of his freshman quarterbacks but would have to get one of them ready to play.
Early in camp it became clear that would be Devante Kincade, and Kincade will be on the travel roster for Thursday’s season opener at Vanderbilt.
Freeze said he’s been pleased with the month of practice from Jackson freshman Ryan Buchanan but that the high school offense run by Kincade at Skyline in Dallas has helped him prepare for the Ole Miss system.
“Ryan Buchanan has played outstanding. He needs to increase his arm strength and some fundamentals. Devante is a little more experienced at it. He’s played in something similar to it,” Freeze said. “I hope I don’t have to play him in the game. He would probably be the most prepared to go in and move the offense right now. Long term, I’m excited about them both.”
Kincade was rated a four-star recruit by Scout.com and by ESPN, which ranked him the 12th-best dual threat quarterback in the nation.
Five walk-ons have been awarded scholarships by Freeze, but there are six recipients in spirit.
Senior wide receiver Jordan Holder gave up his scholarship to fellow walk-on Justin Bigham, a senior tight end.
Freeze wanted to make it extra clear that Holder earned the scholarship.
“He’s had a phenomenal camp,” Freeze said.
Holder is listed No. 2 at slot receiver and is expected to play “quite a bit” at Vanderbilt.
Other scholarship recipients are junior tight end Nick Parker, junior defensive end Walker Sturgeon, senior quarterback Robert Ratliff and senior linebacker Will Martin.
New faces ready
While Freeze hopes he doesn’t have to play Kincade, that’s not the case with a number of other freshmen from his consensus top 10 recruiting class.
On the first release of the depth chart three freshmen are listed as starters – TE Evan Engram, DE Robert Nkemdiche and WR Laquon Treadwell – while a total of seven are listed on the two-deep.
An eighth newcomer – defensive tackle Lavon Hooks, who played at Northeast Miss. Community College last year – is also on the two-deep.
Freeze says Tony Conner, who starred at South Panola last year, is a good matchup for Vanderbilt.
“He gives us flexibility. Whether they’re in their 21-personnel or their 10-personnel he’s a physical enough guy that we don’t have to change our personnel defensively,” Freeze said.
Freeze believes the freshmen he’s relying on will be able to stand their own physically in their first college game. He wants to make sure they play their assignments.
“You’re not sure how they’re going to respond when the lights come on, and you’re on national TV. You look at Robert, some of the time he’s so determined he’s going to win his one-on-one that he may compromise the integrity of the defense,”
Freeze said. “You have to make sure what’s called stays in tact. That’s your biggest concern.”
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack says Nkemdiche will quickly attract the attention of more than one Vanderbilt blocker.
“You can’t single-block him. It’s just not going to happen,” Wommack said. “I don’t care who we’re playing.”