Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt: Grading Robert Nkemdiche's College Debut

Randy ChambersAnalyst IAugust 30, 2013

Feb 6, 2013; Loganville, GA, USA; Robert Nkemdiche is interviewed after he  announced his decision to attend Mississippi on National Signing Day at Grayson High School. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Congratulations, Ole Miss! It looks like all of the blood, sweat and tears have paid off for your coaching staff with the addition of true freshman Robert Nkemdiche. He was considered the top recruit of the 2013 recruiting class, and he showed more than enough in his debut, which resulted in a 39-35 victory over Vanderbilt.

The first thing worth pointing out is his size. Forget the pictures that have been plastered on the Internet; wait until you see the kid in pads. He's one of the biggest players on the field and looks every bit of 6'4", 297 pounds. His arms are as big as your head, and his thick upper body helps make him unblockable.

Considering that he was in high school just a few months ago, Nkemdiche is easily one of the most intimidating players in the nation.

His impact on the Rebels victory must be examined beyond the box score. Although he saw considerable playing time, he finished the game with two tackles, one tackle for loss and one broken-up pass. It wasn't anything spectacular, but this game was all about what the future holds for the next superstar defender.

The former 5-star recruit was thrown into the lineup immediately on Vanderbilt's first possession, which ended with an interception by safety Tony Conner. While Conner will get the credit for making a nice grab, Nkemdiche forced the questionable throw by pushing the offensive tackle into the quarterback's lap.

Keep in mind, he was matched up across from senior Wesley Johnson, who is just as big at 6'5", 295 pounds and is the Commodores' best offensive lineman. He hasn't been called for a hold in his career and was named to the 2013 Outland Trophy Watch List.

Nkemdiche deserves credit for the first takeaway of the season.

All game long, he showed off his brute strength by overpowering and driving linemen backward. Again, he didn't actually get to the quarterback or provide any highlight-reel sacks or tackles, but he did enough to get the Twitter world excited for what's to come.

And then this happened.

Nkemdiche was used on punt coverage, but nobody in his right mind thought he would be used for a fake punt. He received the ball on a direct snap and immediately turned upfield. He picked up 11 yards, threw his own teammate out of the way and helped Ole Miss get into field-goal range before halftime, although Andrew Ritter missed the 55-yard kick.

While that was the highlight of his night, all of the little things should have Ole Miss fans excited. His remarkable body frame allows him to get off an incredible bull rush and knock offensive linemen on their backsides. Once he improves his technique and learns to use his hands better, he will have no problem being one of the top defensive players in the country.

He did miss a tackle due to a poor angle andย overpursuing that allowed a Vanderbilt touchdown, but he's still a young kid who was playing in his first collegiate game. Nobody is perfect coming straight from high school, and there will always be areas where he can improve.

Still, Ole Miss picked up a great player on last year's national signing day. He played his part well and will only get better from here, which is scary for the rest of the SEC.

Grade: B-plus

Note: Screenshot was provided by ESPN3.com.


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