Yesterday, TSD's Ben Love took a look at what Ole Miss does offensively, and today it's time to turn the microscope on the Rebels' defense, which is dealing with a laundry list of injuries.
OLE MISS STARTING DEFENSE
DE: Bryon Bennett (6-2, 270, Jr.)
DT: Carlton Martin (6-2, 290, Jr.)
NT: Issac Gross (6-1, 250, So.) PROBABLE —OR— Woodrow Hamilton (6-3, 300, So.)
DE: Cameron Whigham (6-3, 300, So.)
OLB (Stinger): Serderius Bryant QUESTIONABLE (5-9, 215, Jr.) —OR— Denzel Nkemdiche (5-11, 207, So.)
MLB: Mike Marry (6-3, 250, Sr.)
Nickel (Huskie): Tony Conner (6-1, 210, Fr.)
CB: Senquez Golson (5-9, 193, Jr.)
Rover: Trae Elston (6-0, 190, So.)
FS: Cody Prewitt (6-2, 220, Jr.)
CB: Mike Hilton DOUBTFUL (5-8, 182, So.) —OR— Charles Sawyer (5-11, 178, Sr.)
Notable Backups: MLB D.T. Shackelford (6-1, 246, Sr.), S Chief Brown PROBABLE (6-1, 200, So.)
The Ole Miss defense came out of last week's classic against Texas A&M a battered side. At least eight defensive starters or key contributors were either ruled out or questionable for this weekend's game against LSU. Those injuries have really made a mess of the Rebels' potential starting lineup, as their coaches have said they plan to move a lot of guys around to create a comfortable two-deep.
Those injuries have left all three position groups depleted, none more so than the defensive line. Robert Nkemdiche, C.J. Johnson and Carlos Thompson have all been ruled out for the LSU game. That trio has accounted for 8.5 tackles for loss this season, and that will really leave the Rebels thin against a LSU offensive line that turned in its best performance of the season last week against Florida.
Ole Miss will try to piece it together though. Bryon Bennett, who has started 17 games in the last three seasons, will slide outside to replace Nkemdiche at DE. Issac Gross will also try to give it a go, though he's been struggling with a shoulder injury and won't be 100 percent on Saturday.
That's all even more bad news for a defense that ranks No. 12 in the conference in run defense. The Rebels are allowing 186.7 yards-per-game on the ground, and the last three weeks haven't gone well. Alabama (254), Auburn (282) and Texas A&M (241) each eclipsed the 240 rushing yard mark, and Jeremy Hill will bring his 119.2 per game average into Oxford.
At linebacker, Ole Miss is still sweating whether they'll have the services of their most disruptive defensive weapon. Serderius Bryant suffered an ugly concussion last week against the Aggies, and he'll be a game-time decision according to protocol. If he can't go, the Rebels lose their leading tackler who has also made six stops behind the line of scrimmage.
In Ole Miss' unique 4-2-5 defense, the Rebels often use Trae Elston as a roving safety that also plays closer to the line of scrimmage like a linebacker. Elston's tied for second on the team with 35 tackles and also has 1.5 for loss with a pair of pass breakups. If Bryant can't go, Elston and Denzel Nkemdiche will be called on to pick up his slack.
In the secondary, FS Cody Prewitt has been the focal point of a pass defense that's much more efficient than the run stoppers. Ole Miss ranks No. 5 in the conference allowing 212.3 passing yards per game. Prewitt in particular ranks only behind Bryant with 35 tackles, including three interceptions, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups.
True freshman Tony Conner, a former five-star recruit, has also had an impressive start to his college career. Lining up in the nickel, Conner is also just as comfortable dropping back deep as a safety. He also has 30 tackles, including two for a loss and a sack.
But the DBs haven't been spared from the injury bug. CB Mike Hilton is not likely to play while he's dealing with a hamstring injury. That leaves senior Charles Sawyer, who's played sparingly in four games this season to likely play in his place.
Still, the Rebels pass defense will provide a stiff test for Zach Mettenberger, who had his least productive game last week. But with all the injuries to Ole Miss' front seven, LSU may turn to a formula similar to what they executed last week, which is a healthy dose of Hill up the middle.
How will a depleted Ole Miss defense fare against LSU?