Ole Miss Rebels Football: Inside The Landshark Defense


Much of the Ole Miss Rebels’ success this season has been contributed by their defense. This talented squad has set a reputation this year of being -“stingy,” or, “aggressive.” They are ranked the number one defense in the SEC, second in the nation. They  have allowed just a little over ten points a game. Fin gestures have become quite common this season. The talent was proven against Alabama, and was reassured against Texas A&M. Now the Landshark Defense looks to prove themselves even more.

Landshark. It is a term that doesn’t represent a wannabe mascot of the university, but defines the defense of the Ole Miss Rebel Football program. The name “landsharks” dates back to 2008, when former Ole Miss linebacker Toney Fein coined the phrase, and invented the hand gesture. Tragically, Fein died early in life, but his legacy of the Landshark cares on at Ole Miss.

Dec 30, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; Mississippi Rebels defensive back Tony Conner (12) celebrates after a stop against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the first half at LP Field. The Rebels beat the Yellow Jackets 25-17. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Today, the Landshark defense has gained national respect. These Rebels have forced at least one turnover in 29 consecutive games, leading the SEC with 16 turnovers through the first six games this season. Through six games, they’ve allowed only six touchdowns, offsetting those six by score four touchdowns of their own. Three of those touchdowns have come from interception returns.

The Ole Miss Rebels defense is led by co-defensive coordinators, Dave Wommack and Jason Jones. Jones is in his second season at Ole Miss. Prior to arriving in Oxford, Jones served five seasons at Oklahoma State, where his Cowboys amassed a 49-16 record. Wommack is in his third year with the Rebels. A lot of Cody Prewitt’s success can be credited by Wommack. Last season, Cody Prewitt had one of the successful seasons than any other players around the nation. Prewitt was selected first team All-America and All-SEC after recording six interceptions that led the SEC and seventh nationally. Prewitt also ranked second on the team with 71 tackles. Prewitt’s success doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

The weapons on the Ole Miss defense consist of former five-star prospects of two recruiting classes ago. Ole Miss defensive back Tony Conner has paved the way for the Rebels’ secondary. The North Panola, Mississippi native leads the defense with 36 tackles, five of those tackles have resulted in a loss of nine yards for opposing teams’ offenses. Conner is a beast who is all over the place, and seems to be in every impact play of each game. To add to the tackles, Conner has one interception, one pass breakup, and two quarterback hurries on the season.

Right behind Conner is a player who doesn’t receive as much of the limelight as he deserves, defensive back Mike Hilton. Hilton has a lot of talent, and can easily adapt to any secondary position on the defense. He is second on the team in tackles, with 34, as three of those have resulted in a loss of 12 yards. He also has one interception, six pass breakups, and one quarterback hurry through six games. Another defensive back who deserves recognition for the success of this defense is Trae Elston. Elston is currently ranked fifth on the team with 26 total tackles, has forced a fumble, and has one interception that resulted in a 47-yard return.

Sep 27, 2014; Oxford, MS, USA; Memphis Tigers running back Doroland Dorceus (22) advances the ball against Mississippi Rebels linebacker Serderius Bryant (14) during the game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

But, it is senior defensive back Senquez Golson who has received much of the spotlight nationally, and rightful so. Golson currently leads the SEC, second nationally, with five interceptions this season. His endzone interception that prevented an Alabama comeback two weeks ago, will forever be etched in the memories of Rebel faithful for years to come. It was a turning point of national respect, and could very well have been the highlight moment of the season.

Oct 4, 2014; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels defensive back Senquez Golson (21) intercepts a pass in the end zone intended for Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard (88) to win the game during the second half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebels won 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Rebels’ secondary is not the only part of this defense to be feared. The linebackers and defensive line have established a respected fear by opposing quarterbacks this season. Marquis Haynes is a new leader of the Rebels’ defensive line. He leads the team with five sacks this season, resulting in an astonishing fifty total loss of yards for opponents. Just this week, Haynes was named the SEC defensive lineman of the week, due to his performance in the win over the Aggies last Saturday.

Bryon Bennett and Robert Nkemdiche are right behind Haynes with major success this season. Nkemdiche has 14 total tackles and one sack that resulted in a loss of 13 yards, and his present around the quarterback is a talent that just can’t be taught. Bennett has two sacks this season, along with 13 tackles.

Linebackers Keith Lewis, Denzel Nkemdiche, and Serderius Bryant have set the tone this season for  the league. Lewis ranks seventh on the team with 23 total tackles, one of which resulted in a loss, and his fumble recovery that resulted in a touchdown against A&M played a huge role in landing the Landsharks nation fame. Denzel, Robert Nkemdiche’s older brother, currently ranks sixth on the team with 24 total tackles, and has picked up two quarterback hurries.

Sep 13, 2014; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (5) steps up to the line during the game against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

This defense held Alabama to three points in the second half, suffocated the Vanderbilt offense to where they were only able to cross the 50-yard line once in the entire game, and completely shutdown an Aggie offense that is respected as one of the best in the country. The success is not over. There is still more to prove. These Landsharks are still thirsty. Now, they have orange and white on their minds. God help, Tennessee, as they’re about to find out just how much Ole Miss has improved.

Next: Q&A Preview of Tennessee Matchup with All For Tennessee