TUSCALOOSA — Mike Johnson’s nightmare quickly spread across the Alabama offensive line.
Johnson, the Crimson Tide’s starting right tackle against the University of Mississippi last season, picked the wrong day to have an off day.
Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy overpowered first Johnson, then Chris Capps, then anyone who was lined up across from him.
“He had a big day against us last year — probably particularly me, to be honest with you,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s a very, talented, athletic guy. He’s going to do nothing but good things in his career. He’ll be playing on Sundays.”
Hardy’s numbers from last year’s game are stunning. He made 13 tackles, nine solo. Four and a half were for loss. He sacked John Parker Wilson three times. He forced two fumbles and foiled a fake punt.
Senior Antoine Caldwell thought a moment and couldn’t think of a more dominating individual defensive performance since he’s been at Alabama.
“No, that’s probably the best one,” Caldwell said. “There was a guy from Florida International, (Antwan) Barnes, that played us here a year or two ago that was a really good player. But Hardy’s, recently, has probably been the best one. He did a great job all night.”
When he is on, Hardy is “a big-time difference-maker,” according to Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt.
But when he isn’t, the Rebel defense seems to take its cue from the 6-foot-4, 265-pound junior from the Memphis area — inconsistent and unreliable.
Hardy is the X-factor in Saturday’s showdown against second-ranked Alabama. Few players have the potential to be so dominant. But nobody knows which Hardy will show up.
The junior missed the first three games recovering from foot surgery in August. He still hasn’t started a game for the Rebels this season. He did play very well against Florida, recording three tackles — two and a half for loss — and one and a half sacks. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week.
But Nutt was incensed that Hardy seemed uninspired the following week, a lackluster loss to South Carolina in which he recorded one tackle.
Ole Miss was open, like Alabama, last week and rumors were swirling around Hardy.
“My phone blew up this weekend about his dismissal, and his mom called me and wanted to know if it was true,” Nutt said. “I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ I would probably tell Greg first and then call the mom for sure. All of that didn’t happen.
“He had his best week last week. … He practiced. He was working hard, trying to get better. His attitude was very, very good. He’s doing fine.”
He was better than “fine” against Alabama last year.
“Just watching films from last year — we pretty much put him on the map,” Caldwell said.
“A lot of us, we just had our hands full last year. Sometimes you do come into the huddle and say, ‘man, this guy’s this or this guy’s that.’ You gotta get it on track to do whatever you gotta do to get it done.”
Alabama defensive end Lorenzo Washington expressed appreciation for Hardy’s game.
“He’s a heck of a player. He has incredible get-off. He just has a nose for the football. It’s hard to find a true pass-rushing type of defensive end that can also play the run,” Washington said.