“Excited to get back to work to get ready for Auburn,” said Freeze in his initial statement of Monday’s press conference.
But there would certainly be some leftovers to discuss after the Rebels lost to the Aggies 30-27 in dramatic fashion Saturday night at home.
“Obviously disappointed we didn’t come away with a win Saturday night against a fine Texas A&M team,” he said. “Again, extremely pleased with the effort of our kids, their execution of the gameplan that was put in place. Felt like we played well enough, particularly with the turnovers that we got, to win the game. But it didn’t go our way.”
But it almost did, and that is something to account for. Freeze and company have returned competitiveness to a program that was lacking in that area for at least one season and arguably two seasons. That they led 27-17 midway through the fourth period and with the football deep in Aggies territory prove that.
“We did find a way to get into the fourth quarter against what I consider a very good football team,” he said. “Now it’s time to do something with it.”
Freeze reiterated the plan for his first Ole Miss team that he’d talked about for months.
“Again, I want to be very clear the expectations we laid out for year one for our kids to compete at a high level,” he said. “Sometimes we tend to forget very quickly, but it’s been a few years since that’s occurred. I do think our kids are representing Rebel Nation and our fans very, very well in being a fun team to watch, because they’re competing. And that’s what we want to continue to do, above all else.
“But of course the next step in this process is not only getting to the fourth quarter in a highly contested game but finding a way to win it.”
Freeze said the players have bounced back, as far as he can tell.
“Very good, considering,” he said. “Kids are resilient. Us coaches are the ones that don’t sleep at all, thinking about all the things and the different scenarios that you wish you could have done differently or the ball would have bounced a different way or you wish you didn’t have a penalty on this. All those things keep us up.
“But the kids were great. They came back to work with Paul (Jackson) in the weight room and conditioning. I’m confident they’re still a hungry group.”
Freeze said the fourth and 1 call with the Rebels leading 27-23 and at their own 39-yard line is one he would do again. With the program in the shape he found it, that is.
“I want to be clear. I would go for that again every single time on fourth and an inch with the game on the line for our team to win it in the state of the program we’re in and not give that ball back to Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense. Now, do I sit around and second-guess the call? Absolutely. You better believe I do. I’m my worst critic. But the decision, since everybody has an opinion, I’ll be glad to share you mine.
“The first time we do that and go quarterback sneak, which is my natural progression to do – I’ve proven that through the games – they go to a bear defense and end up about a yard in our backfield. That was the decision not to do the sneak, because I thought they would jump in bear again, and we would have our hands full. Obviously I wish had it over now and would have called something different. But I had about five seconds to make that decision, and that bear defense they did the time before was the reason we did what we did.
“And they brought the free safety and they sold out. They happened to bring the free safety right to the gap we were running to. The free safety came like a missile. There was penetration other places, too. Obviously they knew what was on the line. He was the one that ultimately made the play.”
Freeze said close losses always call for some reflection.
“When you lose a game like that, you look at yourself first and all the things you could have done differently and try to learn from that,” he said “And there’s always a handful of things that seem to certainly could have swung the game in our favor. The bottom line is we didn’t get it done.”
Freeze said quarterback Bo Wallace had a solid game, but there was the one interception late that was a critical play.
“Bo played a good game. That one decision is one he would love to have back, as we all would,” Freeze said.
He knows Saturday at 11:21 a.m. in the Homecoming game against Auburn is another opportunity for the Rebels to continue to turn things even more in the direction he wants the program to go.
“It was a great atmosphere in the Vaught, and I know it will be this Saturday,” Freeze said. “I know our kids will be ready to go at it again Saturday morning.”
Noteworthy Freeze Notes:
On a season-high ten penalties for 71 yards: “Three were on a senior who hasn’t jumped offsides, and he did three times. He was hearing things that were from the other side, and he’s got to glue in to our quarterback and his voice only. But they were saying something on the other side that was definitely getting his attention. We took a delay on purpose. The personal fouls were the first ones we’ve had all year. Very disappointed in that.”
On Bo Wallace, his development, and his future: “Bo, if you look at his game, he played a good game. The mistakes he does make are magnified simply because of the state of our program, I think. Every single snap, every single possession is critical for us. The one decision before halftime (on a ball grabbed in the air and returned for a touchdown by an Aggie), he was making the exact right decision. We’re trying to get in field goal range with two timeouts left. The ball comes right out of his hand. The unfortunate part is it went right to them for a touchdown. The one at the end of the game, we didn’t even have to tell him it was a bad decision. Those are the ones we have to continue to coach, whether it’s he or Barry (Brunetti). Those are the ones we can’t make. (Bo) will be the starter this week, if he continues to play well. You’ll see a combination of both. But if those mistakes like that are occurring early, there will be a change.”
On preparation for Auburn this week after a heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M: “We won’t slack off. We’ll continue to prepare. We’ll do it the same way, and hopefully with the leadership of our team and our position coaches, I’m very confident they're still hungry and going to show up to play again. (From Auburn) we’ve seen the power game, and we’ve seen them try to spread it out a little more. I have no doubt they’ll come out fighting and swinging. They have a very, very talented defensive line. That gives you problems and keeps them in most games. If their offense starts clicking, they’re going to be a very good team in this conference.”
On Mike Hilton: "I thought he played really well for a true freshman being thrown into his first significant snaps of a game like that. He made some key plays and got beat a few times. That’s who we are with the young kids. That’s going to happen at times. But I’m confident in Mike. I think he’s going to be a really good player. He’s a tough kid, hard-nosed and can run. You need as many of those you can find. He had a good game for his first outing.”
On Cameron Whigham: “He’s one of those kids who does his role very efficiently. He’s done very good against the run. We’re working to get more pass rush out of him. I think Cameron’s had a solid year.”
On the offensive line: “The offensive line continues to improve. We didn’t give up much pressure the other night for most of the game. Some of that was due to we went in with a gameplan that I thought would keep them a little off balance and mix the pass and run up pretty good. That’s probably one of the reasons. But when we did have to throw, I thought they protected very well the other night. Matt (Luke) has done a great job with them, and they have come along. They’ve made satisfactory progress.”
On Jeff Scott: "Been pleased with him. Got dinged a little bit (Saturday night) but he went through workouts yesterday. I think he’s progressing more attitude-wise and as a student-athlete now than he was in the spring or even in (August) camp. I couldn’t be more pleased with his progress. He has shouldered a good bit of the load. Jeff and I have had more heart to hearts than you can imagine. I love trying to win him over to be a great team guy, someone that buys in and shows he has bought in by not only the performance on the field but the choices he makes academically and socially. We’ve had many of those talks and I'm real proud that I think he’s on the way.”