Just like the offensive three players, there is a lot of room to dispute these. That’s the nature of the business and that’s the nature of sports. Feel free to interject your own list my way.
1. DT Shackleford, DE/LB
Shackleford has not been as disruptive as he was in years past and understandably so. He has eight tackles, none for loss and no turnovers accounted for. None of that matters because that is not what the Ole Miss defense needs from Shackleford at this point in his career. They need a leader and someone who does not find themselves in a bad spot.
Say what you will about the man but he is never in the wrong spot. He is a smart guy off the field and that carries over. By being in the right spot he will either make the play or blow up the primary pattern for the quarterback. His leadership is also key in a road game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The atmosphere will be loud and the team will need to communicate which is where he comes in. Also if the Rebels find themselves down early, nobody is better at keeping the team in the ballgame than Shack.
2. Denzel Nkemdiche, LB
Taz is coming back 2-4 weeks early from injury and is poised to make an impact right away. His replacement, Serderius Bryant, has gone off and leads the Rebels in tackles by eight and has played one less game. Nkemdiche provides a spark and was all over the field in this game last year.
He will need to cover a lot of ground and unlike Shack, he needs to be the one to make the big play. He will need to make the interception, force the fumble or make the big third down hit short of the sticks. It is up to him and he relishes that.
3. Robert Nkemdiche, DE
AJ McCarron is the best quarterback in college football when he has time. He can carve up a defense and goes through his progressions well. His problem is when you punch him in the face early. The pocket has been all too comfortable for McCarron but with three starters from the offensive line gone from 2012, it is a new opportunity. Nkemdiche has been explosive this season and has lived up to the hype. Many critics (mostly ignorant message boarders) said that he derailed his career by not going to Tuscaloosa. He has heard all of that and he hasn’t forgotten any of that. He will be motivated and will look to disrupt the pocket early. Look for both brothers to make a Nkemdifference on Saturday.