By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – After Missouri ran for 260 yards in snapping a four-game Ole Miss win streak, Rebels defensive coordinator Dave Wommack pointed to his unit’s poor tackling.
After reviewing the game video the problem was more mental than physical. Ole Miss players were out of position and unable to complete plays because of that, Wommack said.
Missouri had four different players average 4 yards per rush or better and a fifth gain 26 yards on his only attempt.
“When I went back and watched it I thought it was some fits as much as anything else. We were reaching for tackles, because we weren’t fitting the gaps as much as we needed to,” Wommack said.
Tackling has required a team effort all season.
Safety Cody Prewitt leads the Rebels with 66, a total that rates him only a 19th-place tie among all SEC players.
Denzel Nkemdiche was quite adept at stopping opposing ball-carriers last year, his 82 stops leading the team.
But injuries, first a knee and then an ankle, have slowed the older Nkemdiche.
“It’s kind of been the story of our season on defense. We’ve gotten a lot of them back. These kids have pushed through and come back, but I’m not going to say everybody’s healthy at this point. A lot of teams are like that,” Wommack said. “Mississippi State has a couple of quarterbacks that are banged up. Everybody’s hurt this time of year.”
Linebacker Serderius Bryant, whose production has increased as Nkemdiche’s as decreased, is second on the team with 63 tackles and leads with nine tackles for loss.
He is Nkemdiche’s competition at the Stinger position alongside middle linebacker Mike Marry.
Both Nkemdiche and Bryant have made starts this season and in some packages appear on the field together.
Bryant has also missed playing time, leaving the field with a concussion against Texas A&M.
Together they combined for two tackles against Missouri.
Bryant gives neither himself nor his teammate a pass, injuries or not.
“I leave that up to me and Denzel, we had like what, two tackles? That’s not good enough. We’ve got to step up and play way better than we did and do what we do. That game was probably one of the worst of the season. You probably won’t see that no more,” Bryant said.
Mississippi State is eighth in the SEC in rushing offense at 193.7 yards a game.
The Bulldogs have backs of varying styles, including a pounder in 5-foot-9, 225-pound Josh Robinson, who had career-highs of 101 yards and 17 carries last week against Arkansas in Little Rock.
Bryant says tackling will be a key for success – for both teams.
“State’s running backs break a lot of tackles. That’s going to be one thing that we have to get better at,” he said. “But they have to tackle our receivers too. We’ve got big receivers, speedy shifty running backs, so it’s going to be a good game.”