Nick Saban is still not sure who will be under center for Alabama against No. 15 Ole Miss on Saturday, but whoever it is — Jake Coker or Cooper Bateman — will have his hands full keeping track of Rebels defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche.
The former five-star Alabama target has has helped Ole Miss hold opposing offenses to 24 total points through two games this year, and has also pitched in on offense with two touchdowns.
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) September 12, 2015
Saban, who heavily recruited Nkemdiche out of Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga., has taken notice.
“He’s a really, really good athlete,” Saban said during a press conference on Monday. “He’s a very instinctive football player. He’s got great size. He’s quick. He can pass rush. They put him over on offense, and you see his athleticism — the guy could probably be a really good tight end if he wanted to be, or if they wanted him to be.”
Alabama players are already preparing for a change to Mississippi’s depth chart:
LB Ragland on Ole Miss DL Nkemdiche at TE: "I'm gonna be a grown man about it & if he comes my way I'm going to lower my shoulder & hit him"
— Alex Byington (@abyingtonTD) September 14, 2015
Many recruiting pundits thought that Nkemdiche would choose Alabama over dozens of other schools in the spring of 2013, especially because his high school coach, Mickey Conn, attended school at UA.
But Ole Miss was the choice, and this season figures to be Nkemdiche’s last hurrah with the Rebels before bolting for the NFL.
Mississippi boasts one of the conference’s strongest — and greenest — defensive lines. Nkemdiche is the only returning starter, with Fadol Brown (end), Woodrow Hamilton (nose) and Marquis Haynes (end) filling the gaps.
“Their front is very active,” Saban said. “They’re very quick. But, you know, I think it’s going to be a challenge for us because we did not pass protect real well last week. We had some issues with speed rushers in the first game. So we’re gonna have to do a much better job in that regard against what is probably the best front that we’ve played to this point.”
The Tide offensive line has allowed only three sacks through the first two games while paving the way for Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake and company to rack up 458 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss has allowed 279 rushing yards without giving up a score on the ground in two blowout wins. The Rebels travel to Tuscaloosa for a primetime matchup on Saturday night (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).