Ole Miss' good start Thursday night with an SEC road win over Vanderbilt took a nasty turn as Hugh Freeze's team lost two key starters to injuries, the Rebels coach confirmed to CBSSports.com on Saturday morning.
Starting linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, the Rebels' top tackler in 2012, had to undergo surgery early Saturday morning for a torn meniscus. He will be sidelined for four to six weeks. The timing is brutal for the Rebels, who have a front-loaded schedule with games at Texas, Alabama and Auburn after next week's game against Southeast Missouri. Then Ole Miss has games against LSU and Texas A&M.
"He's the engine, the emotional catalyst of the defense," Freeze said of Nkemdiche. "He'll fight to get back as soon as he can."
Freeze said he is optimistic that Nkemdiche can return after the Auburn game (Oct. 5), which is right before the Texas A&M and LSU back-to-back games in October.
Later on Saturday afternoon, Nkemdiche tweeted: "Surgery went well. Thank you to everyone for the prayers. God has a plan. Men are defined by how they handle diversity. I love my team."
Ole Miss also lost guard Aaron Morris, the team's top returning lineman, for the season due to a torn ACL. Laremy Tunsil, the nation's top O-line recruit, may end up sliding into the starting lineup, said Freeze, who will look to find his best five offensive linemen. Another option would be fellow former blue-chipper Austin Golson, who also impressed coaches in the opener.
The 6-foot-5, 360-pound Morris will use a medical redshirt season and have two years remaining starting in 2014.