“Today and tomorrow our staff is self-scouting and studying one other team we’re similar to on both sides to make sure we have the full scope, if we can add anything defensively or offensively that is similar to us,” said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, guiding a Rebel team to a perfect start after three games for the first time since the 1989 squad began 3-0 and wound up 8-4 with a Liberty Bowl win against Air Force.
“We’ll practice Tuesday and Wednesday, and we’ll do a lot of fundamental teaching, individual work, special teams, watch some film of our next opponent,” he continued. “Wednesday will still be a lot about us. We’ll introduce the next opponent. Thursday more practice, then Friday and Saturday we’ll be off. We’ll give them one of their few breaks of the season.”
What’s the head coach going to do this weekend?
“I’ll watch my daughters play volleyball Saturday morning, and then lay on the couch and watch as many (football) games as I possibly can,” he said.
All the while enjoying other coaches sweating through games, while he has his Rebels off to a perfect start and a second week in the national rankings.
But Freeze won’t stop thinking about future opponents. No. 1 ranked Alabama on the road is up the week after that, a 5:30 p.m. kickoff on ESPN. Then it’s a game at Auburn, then back home for two games – Texas A&M and LSU.
“That’s probably the toughest stretch anyone in the country will play this year,” Freeze said. "We need to get some people healthy. This week comes at a good time.”
But if he was able to make out the schedule, he would have at least changed one thing.
“Maybe if I had designed it, I’d have (the open date) after Alabama to break up that four-game stretch,” Freeze said.
But it is what it is, and they play the hand they’re dealt.
Second Quarter vs. Second Half
Texas made a big run at Ole Miss after the Rebels went up 14-0 in the early moments of the game Saturday night in Austin. But the rest of the way until just before halftime belonged to the homestanding Longhorns.
A 52-yard field goal at the end of the first half by Andrew Ritter stopped the scoring bleeding by the Horns as they’d put up 23 unanswered points. It was 23-17 UT at the break, and Freeze said it was apparent some of the things happening.
“The second quarter was pretty simple,” he said. “We had three possessions in the second quarter (before the final one that led to the field goal). The first one we had a holding call, got behind the chains, and weren’t able to convert. The next one was a poor call by me that got us behind the chains. I got a little greedy. The third one the ball slipped out of Bo’s hands and he fumbled. Those were the three possessions in the second quarter. Except for the fourth one that we got the field goal.”
Freeze also pointed out that even though some may not want to hear it, opponents have players and coaches trying their best to win games as well.
“They have players,” he said. “They are going to play hard.”
But he was especially proud of his own players and coaches at halftime and in that second half.
“(The Longhorns) were bouncing the zone, either to the front side or to the back side,” he said. “We weren’t stopping it effectively. We had to stop the run or it could have been a long night.
“I felt our chances were really good if we forced them to throw the football. Our staff did a good job of stopping that. We simplified a bit. Let our kids go play and played some base defense. I thought our kids tackled well, and there was only one play that I could find that we were not in the right spot with the scheme that was called. Now we’re getting there. If we make the play, or if we don’t? I still feel better that we’re in the right spot. It gives us a chance.”
And in the second half, a 27-0 rout by Ole Miss, it was all Rebels.
“They changed something on stopping the zone bounce,” Freeze said of his staff. “Coach (Chris) Kiffin came up with something on the D-line he thought could be a run stopper. But you still say hey let’s play some base coverage and go. We made a couple of changes, and Dave (Wommack) made a couple of different calls in the second half.”
And the Rebels rolled.
“Playing Texas before 101,000 was a big experience builder for our kids,” Freeze said. “Having come from behind at Vandy and at Texas are things we can build on. I’m very proud of our staff and the kids’ effort. The second half was one of best we’ve played here at Ole Miss. I’m proud of the way they handled everything that came their way.”
There has been talk through 16 games of the Freeze era at Ole Miss about positive halftime adjustments. That’s been seen in games beginning with the first one in 2012 when Ole Miss trailed Central Arkansas at halftime but won 49-27 to the game in Austin last Saturday night.
Freeze said it’s a lot about being consistent in every situation and in every game.
“If you preach something to your kids constantly and then your actions don’t show that when things get tough, I don’t think what you say has any value to them,” he said. “One of the things we constantly preach to them is we’re confident in who we are. We’re going to play for 60 minutes, and you can’t lose the game in the first or second quarter.
“For me to come in (at halftime) and resemble anything other than I believe that, I think we’d lose credibility with them and who we are. We have to be who we are. We’ll make some plays. We’ll miss a few. The great coaches I’ve ever been around, they’d be visibly upset when they were winning, at times, particularly if they were trying to get a point across. I haven’t met one when things weren’t going your way that they didn’t try to help the kids get through it and say they believe in them. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. That’s just who I think I should be for the kids.”
Freeze said he understands the players know what they want to do, and that’s go out and perform to the best of their abilities. He tries to give them the best opportunity to do that.
“I’ve never coached a single kid who wanted to go out in front of 101,000 and whoever is watching on TV and mess up,” Freeze said. “I’m their biggest fan and I want to support them. Except for selfish penalties. I will get upset about that which hurts our team. I want to be consistent in my approach to them on gameday and be very confident in them and who they are.”
Blocking on Offense
Freeze was pleased with the blocking of his receivers, who obviously had a good game. He also said special teams blocking was, for the most, special.
“The blocking of our receivers, I’ve never coached a game that it was any better. Ever. Ja-Mes (Logan), Donte (Moncrief), LaQuon (Treadwell), Evan (Engram) blocked the perimeter as well as I’ve ever seen. I think that’s why the perimeter runs were so successful for Jeff (Scott).”
Special teams had it together on blocking as well and had a sensational night.
“The blocking on the punt return (of Jeff Scott) was phenomenal. Our coverages were great except for one kickoff coverage. We had one guy that kind of took a play off and got side-swiped and ended up knocking two of our other guys off. Kailo (Moore) did his job. He’s a safety on our kickoff returns and did a phenomenal job getting the guy to the ground. That’s his job and a big play for us.
“There were several key blocks on the return. Bobby Hill made a good one that looked at the time like it could be bad. But watching it, it definitely was in the side and not in the back. Temario Strong finished a guy off as good as you’ll ever see. Temario had a phenomenal game on special teams. I mean phenomenal. Physical, full speed, did a great job. Really glad to see him take that next step. We’ve been pushing him to do that.
Getting Healthy – an update
* Denzel Nkemdiche - “We like the way he’s progressing. Starting this week, getting him off the crutches and moving around in the pool. We’ll see day to day how that goes. Not sure how fast that will go. In his mind he’s playing the next game. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not. They’ll start pushing him this week.”
* Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton – “Both were very, very questionable in our mind whether they could play. Pierce had one of his gustiest performances on an ankle that he struggled with all week. E-Man went about 10 plays to give Laremy (Tunsil) a break. Laremy had to play too many plays. We need to get both those kids healthy. They’re both seniors. We’ll sit them out all week and get some others some reps.”
* Trae Elston – “He had to play the whole game, but he has an ankle (injury). We had to put him in a boot yesterday, but he’ll be ready I think for the (Alabama) game.”
* Vincent Sanders – “We hopefully can get him ready to go now.”
* Korvic Neat – (Knee; no mention by Freeze except that he has an injury. He traveled to the Texas game.)
* Carlton Martin – “He has a hamstring (injury) from the game. I think he’ll be OK.”