'Game of inches'

Hugh Freeze

The following is the Monday press conference for Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze.


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Obviously when you lose a tight game, a close game like we did Saturday night, every decision is magnified. We've learned in a couple losses this year, this game is truly a game of inches. Whether it's a missed field goal by that much or a five-yard penalty. And they make one by that much or a first down that they get by very little. And obviously the calls you make or didn't make. You go through all those things and certainly wish the outcome was different. But I continue to be very, very proud of our young men. One of the things I know that's definitely true for our staff is we can't afford to be in the results-oriented business. We have to be about the process, particularly in the state of our program when we got here. There's too much at stake for the lives of these young men that depend upon us to prepare them each week for manhood and for football games. We continue to strive to set the core principles and foundations to which our program will be built on. And nothing will change this week as we prepare for a very difficult game with LSU. I'm really proud of the attitude our young men had yesterday. Coming in and excited about finishing our season with two great opportunities.

On potentially throwing the ball more in the Vandy game: We threw for 403 yards, so that's a pretty good day. And we threw it 50 times. Anytime you lose there are things you can look at. I've seen people mention running it too much on first down. I looked at the stats. We ran it 21 times on first down and threw it 16 (times on first down). That's pretty balanced. In this league, you have to be a threat to run the football. Some of the runs to which we called, we have other things going on, if you understand our offense. They're in the decision-making of some young men that don't always make the right decisions. We have to look at ourselves and make sure we're coaching them better. Sometimes we should have taken some quick throws to the outside that we didn't. But to be close to 50-50 is pretty good. I think we averaged 4.32 yards on first down, which should keep us on track for our tempo. We've got 90 plays in the game, so we were doing OK in that regard also. We did have two sacks on first down, so that's the dangers. The other thing I'd like to point out is when you have the lead and you're defense is playing well, our average starting field position was (the Ole Miss) 17. I thought their punter did an outstanding job and was the MVP of that game.We started nine possessions inside the 20-yard line. When your defense is playing well, the last thing you want to do is put them in a hole by turning the ball over. That weighs into some of those calls also. Certainly we probably could have thrown it a little more, but it wasn't as skewed as it might seem. Everything is magnified when you lose game in the manner we did and as close as it was.

On playing rival LSU: Our kids understand this game means a lot to a lot of people. We trust we can impress that upon them as we prepare.

On depth issues beginning to show up more late in this 12-game season, now 10 games in: We're down even more now with Ferbia's injury. Down to 59 scholarship players now. It shows up more on the back end of our defense, the back seven. The only place we're really rotating some people are in the interior defense. On the back side, we're not afforded the opportunity to rotate a lot. I do think with the rigors of this schedule, you get beat up, your legs are not quite as fresh, you're not getting many breaks, and I think it does show sometimes.But we can't use that as an excuse or a crutch. We've got to fix that in recruiting, which we will. Right now we've got to press on with what we have.

On the offensive line and the running game: We can always look at the film and think we should have blocked this a little better and it would have been a positive run or the running back should have put his foot in the ground and got us four yards instead of minus one. And at times they have a run-stop blitz called and there's not a lot you can do, particularly if you don't make the right decision at the quarterback spot to take what they're giving you within our offense. So there are a lot of things you can look like that for sure. Everybody's going to have an emphasis on stopping the run game. Because when we're two-dimensional, I think the stuff we do is very effective. That's another reason you continue to try to run. The minute they think you won't, you're going to have some issues in protection, which we struggle some with anyway.

On Vincent Sanders: He and Ja-Mes and Korvic are coming on nicely. Everybody knows Donte's potential and ability. So it's a very welcome sight to see the others perform very well. We're excited they're all getting better and that they have years to go here. That makes for a bright future at that spot.

On Jeff Scott's running: There's a lot of times we wish he would have made a different decision on where he put his foot in the ground and ended the run. Our whole premise of our offense is staying on schedule, whether it's a two-yard gain or a minus one is big in the scope of things for us. We'll watch the film with Jeff, and we already have. We're probably playing him too many snaps. He's probably not as fresh as he once was, and I know at his frame he's sore. He's taken a lot of hits. We've got to evaluate certainly helping him understand this would be a better decision on this run, at the same time giving him some rest.


Hugh Freeze
Bruce Newman

On the confidence in others to give Scott some rest: We should. The thing with Jeff is you know he can pop one at any moment. I don't know if we feel that way about everybody else. I think we will in time. But we should have enough confidence to get them in the course of a game.

On Woodrow Hamilton's health: he's probably about 80 percent. The other night he made a few mental mistakes. Physically he did his job, did really well. The times he made a mental mistake he was just rusty from not getting a lot of reps in the last seven weeks. No question physically he was OK.

On how the players bounced back Sunday after the close loss: I can't stress enough the point you made about what it's taken them to get to this point. We've improved in so many areas from last year to this year. That goes to the kids' credit. They've given all that we've asked. Every Sunday they've done exactly what we've asked in bouncing back and putting the past behind them, as much as it hurts. That locker room and that coaches' locker room was a painful place Saturday night. We don't run from that fact. But again I say we have to be process-oriented and not result-oriented because there's too much at stake. Not just from a football standpoint but from the maturing as young men and how you handle your daily business when you're disappointed. What do you do? Does that mean you still go to your classes and tutors and still act socially responsible? This process is way too important for us to get caught up in the results that may or may not occur. I think they bounced back fine yesterday. Obviously it's been a long season with our depth issues, and that is a concern finishing strong. We've got to make sure we're wise in the way we're practicing them and the length of our practices and what we're asking them to do for these last two weeks. No question (the players) are fatigued a bit and physically beat up. We'll make adjustments in our practice schedule to get them as much rest that they need to be at our best the next two Saturdays.

On experiencing losing games as a head coach since this is more than usual in any one season for himself: I hate losing. If you would have told me we would be at five games though with two to play back in the spring, I probably would have taken that, as would all of Rebel Nation. But when you start having success, it builds the expectations for all of us. And we all want more. I don't blame them. We feel the same way. But how have I handled it? I hope the kids see a consistent man and what he says and what he does, in the good times and the bad times. It's not always easy. When you go home and you don't sleep but 30 minutes after difficult losses, it's hard to always recover as fast as you used to. I guess I'm getting older. I'll tell you the people that it's hard for right now is my daughters. They've been spoiled. They've been at places where they never experienced some difficult losses quite like here. And people like Matt Luke and Grant Heard and myself who are tied to this place so badly want to give this place the best, and they did. It eats at you when you feel like we're so close to getting something accomplished that would be huge around here. So it's difficult on our families. But my hope and prayer is I will always be consistent in my approach to these young men, because no one really likes to say this, but the truth is it is just a game. There is so much more at stake for the future of these young men. Hopefully they can see in the example that our coaching staff sets that when you're disappointed, you still can be responsible and accountable to each other to live in a manner that you hope they'll do when their families have disappointments in life, because life's tough. It doesn't always treat you quite fairly. Hopefully we've been consistent in our example. But no question you do go through those moments of difficulty, and you have to put them behind you and move on.

On Sedarious Bryant: He made some really good fits. When we're playing again certain personnel groups, Sedarious is as good as we have. I think you'll see him a lot this week also because of the type offense we're facing. He had a good game.

On Vandy's last touchdown pass of the game, was that a blown coverage?: Yessir, just an absolute blown coverage. I was on the headsets with them, and thought it was a great call, the coverage we had. Unfortunately our kids didn't communicate exactly well with each other.

On LSU: No. 1, they're defense. You look at their categories, I've got them all written down here. They're third or higher in everything. They're just so talented physically and run so well, they can make mistakes and you never know it because of their speed and athleticism. Coach Chavis does a great job with their defense. And offensively their physical play, which we'll be a tremendously undersized team in Baton Rouge. But Dave and (the defensive coaches) will have a good plan I know. But you worry about just how physical they are. Then the speed of their defense. They're as talented as the Georgias and Alabamas.

On the LSU rivalry: One of the earliest memories I have is sitting in the stands and hearing exactly how Ole Miss fans felt about LSU, at most any game you'd go to. You always remember the Billy Cannons and all the things that happened in the history. It's quite clear to me the rivalry this is and how well Ole Miss usually plays LSU. When I was here before (as an assistant) us going down there at a difficult time in our season and our kids took them to double overtime. JaMarcus Russell kind of took it on his shoulders to win it that night. We were a fumble away from winning that game and didn't get the fumble. I'm sure Coach Miles will put an emphasis on his kids understanding that Ole Miss will come with their best shot. I know they'll be prepared.


Hugh Freeze
Bruce Newman

On the fourth and 2 Vandy had late, did it look on film like they got it?: It looked close. It looked real close. But the more frustrating thing on that play was we had a shot to get him down well before the sticks. Obviously that's another one of those things when we talk about a game of inches. That was a great call by Dave, too. He had them pegged. He thought they were going to sprint out and throw a quick pass. We rolled the coverage to it, and it was unfortunate we didn't get him on the ground.

On how much they miss not having a large senior class this year: It certainly helps to have older kids who have been in these battles, particularly if you have some older kids that had experienced some success. At this time next year when you start talking about the Charles Sawyers and some of those guys that have had a little success this year and will be hungry, that will be beneficial to us. And certainly it would be this year if we had that. But we're playing a lot of young kids that this is their first hurrah with the SEC schedule.

On LSU QB Zach Mettenberger: (I've seen) improvement. The Alabama game gave him huge confidence. I expect him to continue to be a threat to throw the football, just like he has the last few weeks. He's been very good at it. Anytime a quarterback gets confidence, it makes for a dangerous situation. He's got athletic receivers that can beat you in one on one settings, and they force you to be in some one on ones with their power game. So we'll be caught in that position again where we have to win some one on ones and hopefully eliminate the big play when they do throw it.

On where Bo is now as compared to a month ago: You look at his stats and you think he had a pretty good game. And he did. But in the situation we're in, everything is magnified. Every decision I make is magnified. Every decision he makes is. I think he would tell you, and I know he will, that there's three or four decisions he would love to have back that may have resulted in touchdowns, which would have been the difference in that game if we score touchdowns instead of field goals. There's a lot of things they were doing that maybe confused him some. But I think you could put about three or four things that he would say I should have gotten that right. I'm not saying it would have been a touchdown, but it would have had a chance, particularly in the red zone. Then some of those first down decisions where we did make runs maybe should have been some screens to the outside that gave us some more positive yards probably. But he's definitely improved. Again, if we win that game, everybody says what a game he had and he improved, improved, improved. But when you lose that game, you look at those three or four games he may not have done right and they all get magnified and we want to say maybe he didn't have that great a game. He had a great game. He competed. But of course, I wish I had some calls back. He wishes he had some decisions back. We wish the running back would have done something different. We wish the secondary would have done something different. So it's not just Bo. Bo gave us a chance to win it. Could he have improved our chances with a few better decisions? Certainly.

On how facing recruits immediately after that game went?: That's tough. Tough to do but we did it. The good thing is these young men know our situation. They know we're very thin on scholarships right now, and they see we're competing week in and week out in the toughest conference in America. Hopefully they see they can be the difference in getting us over the hump. That's our message to them. I thought it went really, really well with all those guys Saturday.

On not allowing getting to six wins and bowl eligible become a distraction these last two weeks: It's something you wish wasn't talked about as much. But it is what it is. As we approach these games, it would be nice to have that out of the way. But we don't. And so there's still a lot to play for. You want so badly for the fans also, but more importantly for the few seniors that we do have. You want them, and the young ones, to experience what that's like. Because we need the extra practices. We need that badly to start building our program. And you want to send those seniors out on a nice positive note. Along with that it would give our fans some needed positive things.

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