1-2 Punch

Ole Miss Defensive Tackle Robert Nkemdiche gets a lot of "attention" from opposing offenses with regular double-teams, and Nose Tackle Bryon Bennett, an imposing player in his own right, and the rest of the inside guys, are making them pay for that strategy.

Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack made a telling statement after the 23-17 win over Alabama last Saturday.

"I didn't think we had to get tricky up front. I thought our front four was better than Alabama's offensive line," he commented.

How many times has that been thought, much less said, in recent memory about any Bama OL against any DL?

His pregame thoughts were confirmed. His four could handle their five.

One main reason? The 1-2 punch of sophomore Robert Nkemdiche, who draws double teams quite a bit, and senior Nose Tackle Bryon Bennett, a rejuvenated player who started last spring training as a backup.

"Those two don't give up much in the middle of the line," noted Coach Hugh Freeze. "When you throw in Issac Gross, Woody Hamilton and Lavon Hooks, and all of them can rotate and stay fresh, we feel pretty good about how they anchor our defense."

Earlier in his career, when this staff first came on board, Bennett, who was used to playing almost every snap, wasn't a big fan of the rotation idea. As he has matured, he sees its benefits.

"Staying fresh is important. Staying versatile is important. I see that now," Bennett commented. "All of us have different things we bring to the table and our coaches do a good job of not only keeping us fresh, but utilizing our different skills."

Bennett and Gross each had six tackles against the Tide. Bennett recorded the Rebs' only quarterback sack and Gross had a stop for a loss. Nkemdiche, despite the extra attention, chipped in five tackles.

Bryon, it seems, has found a home at NT.

Last year, you will recall due to injuries to DEs C.J. Johnson and Carlos Thompson, and Fadol Brown having to sit out due to transfer rules, the Rebs were forced to move Bennett outside to defensive end.

Bennett did it for the team, but it was anything but a natural position for him and his production dropped off dramatically.

"It was a little rough trying to maintain any consistency in my play. DE was new to me and I struggled some, but I just tried to fight through it," Bennett commented. "I got down a couple of times, but after the season I looked back on it and realized I could have done more and I wouldn't let that happen again."

In the spring, he was moved back inside and slowly worked his way back up the food chain.

When Gross suffered an injury that cost him practice time in August, Bennett took advantage.

"I feel like I can play anywhere on the line. I came in here playing nose, then moved to the three technique and then end last year. Anywhere I can help the team is fine with me," he noted. "I have a good get-off and I like to play physical. I like to think Robert, Issac, Woody, Lavon and myself set the tone for the defense. We can all fly around and make plays and we all embrace our roles.

"When offenses double Robert, the rest of us have to take advantage of our opportunities and make plays. Issac and I made plays against Alabama, so did Robert."

Bryon didn't try to hide his elation over beating Alabama, but being a senior, he knows glory is fleeting if you don't move on.

"It was a huge game - we had to have it. Everyone knows championships go through Alabama. If you are going to win one, you have to beat them," he stated. "But that's over. We are facing a really good Texas A&M team with an explosive offense this week and we better be at the top of our game again. They'll have a hostile environment waiting on us and we have to be focused, intense and prepared.

"There are no breaks in this league. We have to shift gears and keep going even harder. I know our coaches will give us the right gameplan and it will be up to us to execute it. A&M is going to come at us with a tempo, wide-open game and we have to be prepared for it."

The last two years against A&M, where the Aggies won late on the heroics of QB Johnny Manziel, stick in Bennett's craw.

"Those hurt, man," Bryon said. "We had them and let them slip away, two times."

Now, the Aggies rest their hopes on QB Kenny Hill, who lets it fly with the best of them.

"He's really good. We just have to constantly bring the pressure and try to rattle him. We have to let him know we are going to be there for four quarters," Bennett closed.

So far, the Rebel defense has been stellar, if not spectacular, but they know they have a different kind of challenge this week against Texas A&M.

A different style awaits.

Bryon Bennett, part of the 1-2 punch on the Rebel DL, will be in the middle of the action.

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