Freeze knows first-hand, and recently, what winning is all about. Not so for these Ole Miss Rebel players, who if they were around the year before that as well, have only won six times in 24 games.
Before Saturday night, that is. Ole Miss beat Central Arkansas 49-27 in Freeze’s first game as the Ole Miss head coach. He said, of course it was special, especially for those players – both old and new.
“We’re thrilled to get a win. Wins are important. I don’t care who they’re against or when they occur. I’ve been in this long enough to know that,” Freeze said. “The joy that’s in that locker room right now is special. They’re having a blast in there. It’s been a while since they’ve been able to rejoice. Very excited for them.”
Freeze’s Rebels trailed UCA 20-14 at halftime and basically looked bad, especially defensively, in the process. But 35 consecutive points in the second half to build a 49-20 advantage meant a couple of things: the Rebel offense became more efficient as the game went on, and the Rebel defense played dramatically better the final two periods.
“I want to say I’m very, very, very happy for our young men and our coaches and Rebel Nation,” Freeze said, who mentioned now it’s time to get back to work for the challenge that will be Texas-El Paso next Saturday at 6 p.m. in Oxford. “We’ve started the season 1-0.”
Freeze said he made a prediction to his team in the locker room at halftime.
“I told our offense we were going to score 35 points the second half, and we did. I told our defense we were going to shut them out. We had some young kids in there at the end, and they made a good throw and catch. For the most part, those two (predictions) came true.”
Speaking of young kids in there, true freshmen who made their debuts in game one were DB Quintavius Burdette, DB Trae Elston, DT Issac Gross, RB I’Tavius Mathers, RB Jaylen Walton, and DE Channing Ward.
Junior college first-timers were OL Pierce Burton, DB Dehendret Collins, and QB Bo Wallace.
“We played a ton of young kids,” Freeze said. “They were hyped, and I think we were a little undisciplined in the first half with our eyes defensively. I think that cost us some.
To Kick Or Not To Kick?
Two veteran kickers may redshirt. It had already been documented placekicker Andrew Ritter is a strong candidate to sit out and play next season as a fifth-year senior. Same goes for Tyler Campbell, the talented punter who will also be a fifth-year senior in 2013.
Freeze admitted after the UCA game he is trying to win games now and also build for the future. Thus, those two might redshirt.
“Tyler is great for this program and he and Ritter both would like to stay around Ole Miss a little longer. I wouldn’t do that without them and their parents being on board. After Nathan Noble shook the butterflies off and proved he’s got the leg to do the kickoff duties for us, I hope we can redshirt Andrew Ritter so he can replace Bryson Rose as our field goal kicker next year.
“We’re thinking of trying that in the punting position,” Freeze said. “What did Broadway average?”
Broadway, a senior, averaged 46.7 yards on his three punts against the Bears with a long of 50 yards. All were inside the 20-yard line with no returns.
Redshirt freshman Denzel Nkemdiche led the team in tackles with eight total, including five solos.
“I thought (Denzel) was the highlight defensively, the one that was most aggressive and making the most plays. He probably would have made more tackles, but he had to have an IV (during the game),” Freeze said. “He lost some time due to that. I know he plays so hard. I wish he was 30 pounds heavier, and Paul Jackson will get him there hopefully. He played a lot of snaps for us. I forget he’s just a freshman.”
Nkemdiche said it had been a long time coming to get back in a game.
“I missed competition,” he said. “I missed it so much and to finally get that opportunity, I just wanted to do my job for my coaches and teammates. When plays came my way, I felt I made the plays I was supposed to. I did my job.”
Nkemdiche said the Rebels can build off this victory and prepare for UTEP with more confidence.
“It gives us confidence and gives us great attitude and lets everybody know we can win,” he said. “If we play hard and revert back to our training, we’ll come out with a W.”
His brother, Robert, was in attendance. He said it was special to have him here.
“Last night they played, and I watched the reruns. I saw my boys back home. I take that personal because it was my turn today. I felt like I made them proud.”
Nkemdiche said the Rebels got better as the game went on.
“We started off slow and weren’t clicking like we thought we should have been clicking,” he said. “When we went in for the second half and came back out, we were a whole different team. Everybody was out there making plays.”
Leading The Way:
One player who stood out offensively was sophomore receiver Donte Moncrief, who led the team in receptions with eight for 104 yards. One was for a touchdown, a 53-yarder over the middle that put Ole Miss up a touchdown in the third quarter.
“It was a big play. Bo told me before the play he was going to throw it. It was pass inteference, but I kept my eye on the ball and made a big play.”
Moncrief said he didn’t have much room to make the catch.
“It was tight window,” he said. “The cornerback was on my back, because he was playing a zone. So once Bo threw I had to make a play for the team.”
Moncrief said once the players settled down in the first half and after halftime, things got better overall.
“Some of the linemen that came in and hadn’t played, they were a little nervous at the beginning,” he said. “But once they got their stuff down and gave the quarterback time, the receivers made plays.”
Off And On Tempo:
Much had been made of the tempo of the Rebels’ offense under the new coaching staff. Freeze said it was a mixed bag as to how he felt they did in that regard.
“First quarter, yes,” Freeze said of being pleased with the pace and tempo. “Most of the third quarter, yes. Second quarter, not so much. We had some good scoring drives. I don’t know that we could have done a lot of more because of our depth in the offensive line, and in tailback where we were thin with (Randall) Mackey not feeling well and Jeff (Scott) being out.”