FINISHING TOUCHES: Rebels wrap up Sugar Bowl prep with final practice
Published 12:00 pm Thursday, December 31, 2015
All that is left is the waiting.
Ole Miss held its final Sugar Bowl practice inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Wednesday leading up to its showdown against Oklahoma State on Friday (7:30 p.m., ESPN). It is a game that has been anticipated for much longer than the past four weeks since the bowl matchups have been announced.
Getting back to a New Year’s Six game that has been on the minds of the Rebels since last New Year’s Eve.
“We’re very anxious, very excited,” Ole Miss offensive lineman Justin Bell said. “We look forward to a great game, a hard-fought game. We’re just excited.”
The approach to this year’s postseason game was going to be much different from what Ole Miss did last year. Part of that was due to the structure of the week in New Orleans set up by the Sugar Bowl staff, and the rest was due to how Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze mapped out the practices. With the final chance to prepare behind them, players noticed a night-and-day difference from this season to last.
“To be honest, the whole process felt different,” Bell said. “I felt like we got more work in this year. We were more focused this year. I just feel like we had more enthusiasm and were fresher this year.”
Star defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will not be suiting up for Ole Miss on Friday, but there will be two guys doing their best to fill his spot.
Breeland Speaks and D.J. Jones are tasked with filling the void that is left by the 6-foot-4, 296-pound Nkemdiche.
“I’ll probably see 20-30 more snaps,” Jones said. “I’ve been working to get more in shape from what I was. Just taking over from where (Nkemdiche) left off.”
Speaks has had to fill in for Nkemdiche previously this season during the Memphis game after Nkemdiche suffered a concussion during an offensive play and one more later in the season. With Nkemdiche gone for good as he announced he would enter the NFL Draft after being suspended due to his actions in an Atlanta hotel earlier this month, Speaks views Friday as the first chance for people to glimpse into the future.
“Robert’s not going to be here next year, and basically it is (my job) now with him gone now,” Speaks said. “I just look at it as this is going to be the d-line next year, so let’s see what I can do.”
Nkemdiche is one player who won’t be back for a senior season. There are also a couple players who will return for one more year in a Rebel uniform in Evan Engram and Fadol Brown.
One that is still in proverbial limbo and has people in the NFL and Ole Miss locker room on pins and needles awaiting his decision is Laquon Treadwell.
It is presumed Treadwell would be one of if not the top pick among the class of receivers heading for the NFL. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Treadwell as his highest-ranked wide receiver on his updated Big Board.
But Treadwell has not made it certain Friday will be his last game with Ole Miss and is weighing his options carefully.
“I’ve just been waiting around and taking my time,” Treadwell said to reporters Monday. “If I do get that gut feeling that I should leave or stay, then I’ll go with that, but nothing has really drawn me away from the school. There hasn’t been anything that told me, ‘I’m out this season.’ … Once the bowl game is over, I’ll go back home and see where I’m spending next year and go from there.”