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Relentless is the Word on Defense

ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy asked each of the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences to describe their team in one word

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze's word? Relentless.

The same can be said of the Ole Miss defense. 

And it starts up front with the defensive line, headlined by sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and bolstered by the return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and the additions of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes.

"With Coach (Dave) Wommack, since we have been together, we have been an attack defense that's going to create pressure," defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. "If you can do that with just your front four, a four-man rush, and still have the ability to pressure in multiple ways, that's the perfect combination for us."

"This camp, we have shown so much progress in the D-line," Nkemdiche said. "We're getting after the quarterback every day. (Wommack) is so much more comfortable. He's sending us four guys and letting his guys cover."

Much is expected from Nkemdiche in his sophomore campaign after recording 34 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 8.0 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries in his freshman All-American season. He bounced between defensive end and defensive tackle but has found a home at defensive tackle this season.

"I expect really big things from him," Kiffin said. "The world is going to be really surprised when they see him play on Thursday night. I would be shocked if he didn't take over the game, from a 3-technique standpoint and what a 3-technique can do in a game. I would be shocked if he doesn't. He's that good. We have guys in place around him to be really good on defense. This year he's really matured."

"He's definitely found his way in college football," Johnson said. "His get-off is probably second to none. He's going to acquire a lot of attention, and everybody knows that. It makes us raise our level of play because we know what they're going to give him. We're going to have to step and pick up the slack a little bit."

The defensive line looks to improve the pass rush after experiencing a decline in sacks from 38 in 2012 to 20 in 2013, in addition to taking pressure off the secondary. 

The defensive backfield is arguably the deepest and most experienced unit of the defense with a combined 96 starts among the five starters on the depth chart, led by the Southeastern Conference's lone returning All-American in senior safety Cody Prewitt.

"I feel better about the secondary than I have in three years," Wommack said. "I'm really pleased with the guys. We have some guys who can cover. We have some smart guys and can create different packages with those guys. This is one of better defensive teams that have been around the last couple of years."

"Having C.J. (Johnson) back takes our pass rush to a whole new level," junior defensive back Mike Hilton said. "We know if we can hold up on the back end and make the quarterback hold it the pass rush from the front four can be something special."

With the depth, experience and promise of more aggressive play-calling, the sky is the limit for the Ole Miss defense in 2014.


In case you missed it, Fins Up (Part 1) from last year:


Pitching, Defense Key Rebels To Win

Ole Miss struck early with five runs over the first four innings, which Chris Ellis and Wyatt Short made hold up in a 6-1 win over Mississippi State Friday night at Dudy Noble Field.

The leadoff man for Mississippi State reached base safely in five of the seven innings that Ellis started, but he limited the damage to one run in 6.2 innings, as he scattered eight hits with a walk, two hit batsmen and two strikeouts. It marked the seventh time in nine starts that he allowed no earned runs or one earned run this season.

"He was terrific," head coach Mike Bianco said. "He made pitches when he had to. He looked like he was so in command of the game. I was proud of the way he pitched, better than he's been in a while."

"It felt like every inning they got a leadoff guy on, whether it was beating out an infield single, or I walk a guy, or hit a guy, but it was good to have defense behind me that turned doubles plays and made the big play to get me out of the inning," Ellis said.

A trio of defensive plays in the middle innings highlighted the effort in the field that included just one error and saved at least one run and possibly more. 

"Chris had a great game today, throwing strikes and making it easy on the defense, getting ground balls and double-play balls to get out of innings," Errol Robinson said. "He kept us in the game throwing strikes and not too many walks today."

In the fourth, Preston Overbey knocked a ball down hit to a hole on the right side and then caught the lead runner in a run-down between third base and home for the last out of the inning. 

In the fifth, Robinson and Overbey combined on a 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning, and then in the eighth, Braxton Lee started the inning defensively with an outfield assist, as he cut the ball off and threw out the runner at second.

"It was a big double play, not just by Errol but also a tough turn," said Bianco of the double play. "They run well. We're not holding the guy at first, so he gets a great jump, and then it's a tough turn for Preston because they're all over him. He makes a great turn and gets out of it." 

Mississippi State threatened again later in the eighth with runners at first and second and two outs. Short, who entered the game the seventh, was behind 3-0 to Wes Rea, and then he battled back to a 3-2 count before getting a lineout to Overbey to end the inning.

"We need that," said Bianco of the defense. "We defended really well up until a few weeks ago, so we need to get back to that."



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