Bo Wallace has started all five games for the 3-2 Rebels, 0-1 in Southeastern Conference play. But his two second-quarter interceptions against Alabama in the Rebels’ 33-14 loss to the Crimson Tide have Freeze evaluating things even more.
It’s something he does every week, but he admits this week, heading into a difficult encounter with Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0) at home, it’s a priority.
“One of the keys, as all of us know, is great quarterback play in this conference,” Freeze said at his Monday press conference. “Ours is suspect right now.
“Their (quarterback) play is very, very steady,” Freeze said of Texas A&M. “The system they run fits him well.”
Who’s the QB now?
Wallace was 15-of-26 for 123 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns at Alabama. He was sacked four times.
“The first one, he’s out of the pocket and he should have thrown it away. He throws it right to them. His mechanics were awful on it, and he’d be the first to say that to you,” Freeze said. “The second one he was just greedy and thinking Donte (Moncrief) was going to go up and make a play. While I agree Donte can make plays, if you’re going to do that, be sure to throw it outside where he has a shot at a one on one instead of inside where a safety can make the play. Would love to have seen him take the underneath route, and let’s live to play another down.”
Freeze said they’ve talked about it since Saturday night.
“No one feels worse about it than (Wallace) does,” he said. “At the same time, in our meetings (Sunday) he understands it’s got to stop.
“We’re going to work hard this week to find out who prepares the best, who feels the most confident with the game plan, and then who can go out and hopefully take our football team and move us down the field, or at least don’t put our defense in bad positions time and time again.
“Interceptions are part of the game. As a quarterback you have to have a short memory and forget about them and move on. But if it’s a recurring pattern on bad decisions or bad throws, then we as coaches have got to explore other avenues. I hope that’s not the case. I want all our quarterbacks to play and do well. Dan (Werner) and I are going to prepare them like that. We’ve got to do a better job with what they feel comfortable throwing. But I don’t think that was the case the other night. But we’ve got to find more consistent play out of that room.”
Freeze said they’ll look more closely at all the signal callers this week in practice.
“There’ll be more competition this week, absolutely,” he said.
Ole Miss played a more physical brand of football against Alabama than it had this season. Freeze said it’s part of the process.
“It’s something we preach to them about being tough and physical,” he said. “You have to be in this conference, even though we’re undersized. You can run around and throw your body around and be physical.”
Freeze said he can point to one aspect of his program where things have turned in a more physical favor.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Coach Paul Jackson and his staff,” Freeze said of the strength and conditioning program. “That’s something they talk about daily when the kids are in there with them. Part of that, too, was preaching to them what it was going to be like from the other side. We knew they were going to be physical, and if we didn’t match that, it was going to be a long night.
“I do think they responded well and we did play a more physical brand of football, especially defensively.”
This week against Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Rebels face a different challenge. Honored as the SEC Offensive Player of the Week, Manziel set a Texas A&M record with 557 yards of total offense in its 58-10 win over Arkansas, the school's first-ever SEC victory. He completed 29 of 38 passing attempts for 453 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 104 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground as well.
It’s an offense and a quarterback that are like nothing the Rebels have faced this season.
“A totally different challenge,” Freeze said. “They’re going to spread you and try to put you on an island and expose that they are better athletes than you. They’ve had great success in doing that. It’s a challenge for us that’s very concerning.”
Ole Miss had some breakdowns on special teams against Alabama. The Crimson Tide ran one kickoff back 99 yards for a score when Ole Miss led 7-6 early in the second quarter.
“Our kicker (Nathan Noble) slipped. It was a line drive that had no hang time whatsoever. They caught it on the first bounce, and we’re barely across the 40 (yard line) when he gets it. They do a good job of blocking their scheme. The guy never had to change directions. He hit it 100 miles an hour. We had two guys that still could have made the tackle but did not. It still would have been a good return for them, but it didn’t have to be what it was.”
Freeze said that was the only kickoff of concern.
“The other two were really good,” he said. “Those were good coverages, and we had them inside the 25 both times. But that one was a dagger to us at that point in the game. We had the momentum and the kids were feeling good. I would love for them to have had to go the length of the field and score. Probably at halftime I still think you’re feeling good about the position you’re in. All of a sudden in three minutes it’s gone from 7-6 to 27-7.”
Punting by Jim Broadway wasn’t up to his higher standards of the season, and Freeze explains.
“The punt team had issues,” he said. “We had a bad punt on the punter, and his other bad punt was from bad protection that caused him to change his mechanics. So we’ve got to get that cleaned up.”
There was no mention of personnel changes on special teams.
Freeze and Kevin Sumlin are first-year head coaches at their respective schools. Freeze said while he doesn’t like to face friends in competition, it is what it is.
“He’ll want to beat us badly, and we’ll want to get our win also,” Freeze said.
However, it’s all about between the lines come Saturday at 6 p.m.
Freeze said the offense A&M uses is similar to the Rebels.
“We do a lot of the same stuff. We probably do a little more than he does because I feel like we have to. But if you have athletes you have confidence can win a lot of one on ones and a quarterback like he’s got, you really don’t have to do a lot more than they do.
“They do what they do and they do it very well,” Freeze said. “But we’re very similar.”
Freeze said Manziel is a handful in the Aggie offense.
“His ability to extend the play,” Freeze said is perhaps his best attribute, along with athleticism and ability, speed and mobility. “At the end of the day, the guy finds a way to extend play after player after plat. He extends it and scored touchdowns. That’s the most concerning thing.”