Before reading on any further, I need to pose you a question. Write your answer down on a piece of paper and save it for later.
Q: How well did you think Ole Miss' Robert Nkemdiche performed on Saturday against Alabama?
There is no wrong answer. This is just your opinion/observation. Finished? Okay, now let's continue.
After the Alabama victory over Ole Miss, I posted Sunday Morning Hangover: Shutout Version.
On this post, I noted that Mr. Nkemdiche posted 0 statistics. In other words, he had no tackles nor other kept defensive statistics (INT, FF, Sack, TFL, QBH, etc.). I was quite surprised when I read some of the comments from some observers saying they thought he had a good game. This piqued my curiosity for in my mind he was very much a non-factor. I figured I owed it to everyone to go back and watch the game again and focus on number 5 in white at defensive tackle.
It didn't take me long to figure out where the discrepancy was but first, my summary of his performance:
As I already knew, Robert is big and fast, yet lacks real technique and struggles against experienced offensive lineman. In the first half, he had a few good rushes against the pass but AJ McCarron was able to complete passes (these instance do not qualify as QB hurries) for good gains. A few other times, he overpursued or focused on pushing back the man blocking him that the running back went right by him.
As the game went on, Robert faded. In the fourth quarter, he flat out disappeared. He was often paired up one-on-one against the Bama guards Anthony Steen and Arie Kouandjio, the latter who had his best game yet in crimson and white. In these instances, Steen and Arie pretty much kept Robert Nkemdiche out of harm's way. Several times I would say they dominated him.
On both touchdown runs, Alabama ran right at him and past him. On T.J. Yeldon's 3rd quarter 68-yard TD, Arie created a huge hole by pushing Nkemdiche way outside. Again on Kenyan Drake's 50-yard 4th quarter touchdown run, it was Steen's turn to push him around. On both plays, Nkemdiche is the farside tackle.
In summation, I would not change my opinion in that he was a non-factor.
Now this article is not really about how well Nkemdiche played rather it is how it was delivered to the public. To be clear, I think Robert Nkemdiche is an excellent athlete with great potential. So, get out that piece of paper that you wrote on earlier and let me ask you another question:
Q: How did you watch the Ole Miss-Alabama game?
I will give you my answer first: I watched ESPN with the sound down and Eli Gold's Alabama broadcast turned up. If you were at the game or watched it the way I did, you probably agree with my summation. If you watched ESPN with Brad Nessler doing play-by-play and Todd Blackledge doing color, you probably think Nkemdiche had a really good game.
Why is this? Because Nessler and Blackledge could not stop talking about him even when he wasn't doing anything. It's also the director's fault in that he kept showing him for no reason. On one 2nd quarter play in particular, Ole Miss DT Woodrow Hamilton stops Drake cold at the line of scrimmage and the camera goes straight to Nkemdiche who was not in on the play. From there, Blackledge waxes on poetically about how wonderful the younger Nkemdiche is. I had to rewind it myself to see what he had done on the play which was nothing. I owe this to ESPN trying to hype certain players and being too lazy to educate themselves on the whole team.
From another perspective, I don't believe Eli Gold called out Robert's name all night.
Thank you for your patience in reading this article. If you stuck with me this long, maybe you can hang on a little longer for the good part.
Todd Blackledge ignited a bit of a silly little controversy during the game broadcast Saturday with his early second quarter comments when he insinuated that Nick Saban had hired assistant director of football operations Tyler Siskey away from the Ole Miss staff to give insight into Hugh Freeze's offense and concluded it by saying Siskey was "very integral" in the Tide's game plan (can't you just imagine Saban calling this guy into his office asking him for advice? Yeah, me neither). Blackledge also added some out-of-context quotes from Hugh Freeze that made it sound like Bama was going to steal signs. I don't have to tell you that both of these hallucinations are absolute falsities. I have no idea how he came to these conclusions. Again, can you imagine Blackledge asking Saban about this and Coach confirming? "Yes, Todd. We hired this guy and we're paying him a good salary to give us insight on Ole Miss." It is beyond laughable. Even if this was the way Saban operated, wouldn't he hire someone away from Texas A&M or LSU instead of Ole Miss (no offense Rebels fans but you know they are bigger threats to the Tide than your team is)?
Despite these obviously ridiculous claims, some fans on the visitors' side took it as truth (or at least wanted it to be true). These little nuggets set the Tin Foil Hat Brigade into a tizzy. Some over at Red Cup Rebellion (←click for paranoia extraordinaire) and other places throughout the interwebz wearing their Oliver Stone goggles thought he was stealing plays and radioing down to the Bama sidelines. Below is a comment that actually went green on RCR:
I rewatched the clip of the game when they showed him in the press box. It seems kinda odd that the Asst. Director of Football operations is in the press box watching the game through binoculars. We are on Offense when they show him and if you can read lips he says to the guy next to him with a headset on "it’s a pass". It sure did look like AL knew what play we were about to run all night. No bama fan would have bet you before the game that they would shut us out.
I bring all this up to warn you that Blackledge and other ESPN wonks don't always know what they are talking about. If you love college football like I do, learn to watch the game and tune out the announcers. Except Eli Gold.