One year after surrendering 66 points at home to Texas, Ole Miss was able to stifle the Longhorns in a 44-23 victory Saturday night.
Trailing 23-17 at halftime, the defense buckled down and shut Texas out in the second half. Even more impressive, Ole Miss held their opponent to just 90 yards of offense in the latter half with 69 of the yards coming on two of their seven drives.
Ole Miss was again without Charles Sawyer who has been hampered by a shoulder injury and was arrested on suspicion of DUI after the SEMO game. 2012 leading tackler Denzel Nkemdiche also missed the game as he is recovering from a torn meniscus suffered in the Vanderbilt game. This week’s grades are a lot more pleasant than last season’s.
Defensive line: The backfield was an absolute bloodbath for the home team. White jerseys lived in the pocket and Case McCoy had zero time to get comfortable. CJ Johnson played his best game since the Egg Bowl blowout last season, racking up 5.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL and one quarterback hurry. That dynamic Johnson/Robert Nkemdiche combination that Hugh Freeze was hoping for appears to be coming to fruition. Nkemdiche was double-teamed much of the night, but still had a mammoth TFL, swallowing Malcolm Brown for a loss of six. Issac Gross and Channing Ward also recorded quarterback hurries.
Driven by speed of the ball, the Rebel defensive line is reaching a terrifying zone of danger for opposing offenses. They are so deep, so quick and there is a next guy in line mentality that is wrecking havoc on opponents.
Linebackers: The best defensive game might have been from Serderius Bryant. A week after racking up 15 tackles, Bryant led the team again with 11 this time. He was a sideline-to-sideline guy and had three tackles for loss and a sack in the win. Losing a player of Denzel’s caliber is tough, but having a backup like Bryant is not bad. Mike Marry ripped a fumble out of a pile and looked to be the meanest guy in there. DT Shackleford had a pair of tackles, Keith Lewis and Temario Strong each had one.
One telling stat about how well the linebackers played was the inability for the Longhorns to make a big play. Only averaging 3.4 ypc, the running backs had a long of 18 on the night and were relatively held in check. Underneath on the pass was covered well too as running back Johnathan Gray had four catches for just 12 yards.
Secondary: After an interception against Vanderbilt and SEMO, Cody Prewitt had another great ballgame. He has been able to hit since he put on pads but his pass coverage has been lacking in his first couple years at Ole Miss. He looked great the first two games and continued that play against Texas with three pass breakups.
Mike Hilton had seven tackles, including two in the backfield. Tony Conner also had seven tackles and was a terror for McCoy all gamelong. Trae Elston was second on the team with eight tackles and probably earned himself a starting job against Alabama. Missing their top corner and allowing less than 200 yards passing on the road is certainly something encouraging for Ole Miss.
As you can see, it was a banner day for Ole Miss and a staple victory of the Freeze era. A grade of the offense is to come.