NASHVILLE — Robert Nkemdiche was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week after his dominant performance against Alabama, but he received an even greater honor Tuesday afternoon.
The accomplishment: Getting mentioned in the same breath as Tennessee legend and NFL Hall of Fame member Reggie White.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason made that comparison during the Commodores’ media day.
“The thing he’s shown is, for him, he’s big in the moment,” Mason said. “It’s a tall task to try to slow down one guy. It’s like trying to slow down Reggie White. The only thing you can do is line up, play football and understand that he’s there. We’ve got to try and find a way to move him — keep him out of the way.”
This past Saturday, Alabama tried and failed to keep Nkemdiche away from the ball. The former 5-star recruit racked up six tackles (including 2.5 tackles for loss) and a half-sack while keying a Rebels defense that forced three interceptions.
There’s no doubt he’s one of the country’s most talented players. He vaulted to the No. 1 spot in CBS Sports’ 2016 NFL mock draft after the Alabama performance. But the comparison to White is a big one.
“The Minister of Defense” wreaked havoc for Tennessee between 1980 and 1983, and then tallied 198 sacks (second all-time) in 15 NFL seasons. His No. 92 is retired by the Volunteers, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles.
Nkemdiche is well on his way to achieving similar goals. But for now, he needs to outsmart Mason and the Vanderbilt offense.
“The only thing I can speak to is you’ve gotta play the game with him,” Mason said. “Which means that you’ve got to scheme around him at times. Sometimes you’ve gotta go at him, sometimes you’ve gotta try to take him out of the equation. That’s with some misdirection. Some things to try to help move his eyes.”
The Commodores will need to watch for Nkemdiche on the offensive side of the ball, too. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound lineman has two touchdowns this year (one through the air and one on the ground), and nearly punched another one in against Alabama.
Robert Nkemdiche will not be stopped! TOUCHDOWN OLE MISS! 42-14 in the 3rd. https://t.co/GJ29H8BJh3
— OMRebelNation.com (@OMRebelNation) September 12, 2015