A Matter of Tempo

Ole Miss beat Arkansas 30-27 Saturday, while the wide-open, uptempo offense the Rebels employ appeared to slow down some in the second half.

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The Rebels led 21-17 at halftime and had to punt on their first three possessions of the second half. After leading 27-20, Ole Miss again didn't appear to be in the same mode of offense as earlier in the game and had to punt twice.

After Arkansas tied it 27-27, the Rebels drove down the field for the game-winning field goal of 31 yards by Bryson Rose, his third of the day, all in the second half.

Coach Hugh Freeze addressed some of those offensive decisions, some of which are dictated by the flow of the game, others by personnel, in his weekly press conference Monday.

"We're playing now with I guess 64 scholarship kids now with the injuries we have," he said. "When you're playing with those type numbers, you want to limit (the opponent's) possessions. We ended up not doing that the second half. In the first half we did, and we were five of six on third down. In the second half we were awful.

"After watching the tape, I give a lot of credit to both defensive staffs – theirs and ours – the adjustments that were made at halftime. After our last drive of the first half (10 plays, 75 yards, 1:01, a 1-yard Jeff Scott touchdown run), they decided they couldn't fit our runs and started doing some things we had not seen on tape and were not prepared for. It took us to about the last drive to wise up."

Freeze said there are multiple aspects of both sides of the ball, including both sides of the opposition, when making decisions about the speed of the game at certain times during a contest.

"Really what goes into it is just trying to put your team in the best situation they can be the most competitive in," he said. "You don't want to go a bunch of three and outs in tempo and your defense is back out there inside a minute. It didn't work out perfectly for us Saturday, but that's what goes into the thinking anyway."

Freeze said the games so far have shown the Rebel offense can be successful at a fast tempo or apply the brakes a bit when it's needed.

"We can slow it down anytime we want to," he said. "We've done that quite a few games this year, when we've had the lead anyway, and tried to milk some clock. It's a balancing act, but (last Saturday) it seemed when we went our fastest tempo, the last possession of the first half and the last (possession) of the game, it seemed to give (the Razorbacks) more problems for sure. I thought our kids had great poise in both drives. Didn't seem to be hectic, and seemed to be pretty calm. We were able to have great success."

Freeze was asked if the offense is even close to what it can be, given the short time he and his staff have been here and the limitations concerning current personnel. The question was presented if so far his offense is a "you ain't seen nothing yet" situation.

"I won't say it like that," he said. "But I do know we can be better. I do know when we get to a full strength of 85 scholarships and depth at the positions we need and maybe a few more offensive linemen that fit exactly what we're trying to do, I am encouraged.

"I thank God I've also had experience just running two-back power and all of that, because if that's what we ended up being made for, we could do that. But I think it's been proven with our limited success we've had and Kevin Sumlin's success at (Texas) A&M doing it, that I see no reason why you can't be successful."

But each week is different and each opponent is different.

"Matchups are big in this league," Freeze said. "Some teams are going to give you more problems than others. Vice versa is true also. So I do think we're multiple enough that we can do enough of the other stuff; if we need to do that to be competitive in games, we can."

Freeze was asked if there is some pleasure in not only watching his offense succeed but also making the opponents' defenses appear to be uncomfortable with what they are facing.

"I don't know if I've ever thought in terms of taking joy in making them uncomfortable. I take joy in giving our kids a competitive advantage. I do think when we are in our fastest tempo, if you look it's very common you don't see but a few different looks (from the opposing defense) and you're not having to block 18 different fronts and stunts. It would be awful difficult for a defense to carry their whole repertoire and package when you're in your fastest tempo.

"So I do take pleasure if that somehow gives us an advantage for our kids in competing with a team. I take great pleasure in that."

Freeze said Bo Wallace's improvement this season has been a key to having offensive success.

"I think Dan (Werner) has done a good job with him, in maturing him and preparing him," he said. "I think early on we put too much on him. I know we did in the Alabama game. We tried to overcoach, to do too much, to carry too much. Ironically the times we had success (at Bama) we just went back to doing what we do best and doing it fast. We've made sure he is comfortable with what we're doing. Dan's done a good job (with Bo) in how to prepare better, and we've also made sure (Bo) is more comfortable with the plan."

Bo Wallace
Bruce Newman

But that tempo question still arises. How does it actually work to the degree it has or maybe will work even greater into the future? How are the decisions made when to speed up and slow down? Is too much being made of that outside of the team and coaches?

Is it tempting to just go fast all the time?

"It's very tempting. Very tempting," Freeze admitted. "These games are so long. And when you're playing teams like Georgia that have those receivers and those running backs that every time they touch it, you hold your breath thinking they can score. I've got a defensive staff that's saying can we just make sure to slow this (series) down a little bit. It's a balancing act. If we were a little deeper in the secondary and at defensive end, it would be even more tempting. It's still tempting. It's just not going to be effective all the time. When it's not effective (your offense) is going to be out there about 40 to 45 seconds when it's not successful. It's a guessing game, and I'm not standing here saying I have all the answers.

"You take insight from your coaches and try to do what's best with your team at that point. But it's my nature (to move fast). It's what I'd like to do. But I'm not confident we're deep enough where can go score 60 against Georgia to win a game. I think you have to feel that way if you're just going to sell out and do it all the time. You'd better be thinking you're going to score a bunch of points against a team like this with the players they have."

Freeze said Georgia's offense is a handful to deal with and is so effective because of a variety of reasons.

"They're a very difficult offense to defend because of their balance and their talent. They've got a great scheme and a trigger guy that's excellent, two great running backs and two receivers. It's going to be one of our tallest tests this year."

The improvement of the offensive line for the Rebels and the protection they've been able to give Wallace has been one of the keys to the recent success in the win column.

"What we've done is try to get the ball out a little quicker. And (offensive line) Coach (Matt) Luke has done a great job of them maturing and getting better in their one on ones. We're going to have to hopefully get (the ball) out (of the quarterback's hand) in a shorter amount of time."

Taking one last look back to Little Rock, the Rebels made a move up for their program on that day.

"Excited to get a road win in this conference," Freeze said. "Anytime you can do that, you don't take that lightly. You're very excited."

Especially if it all works out in the end on your offensive decision-making through 60 minutes, and sometimes more.

Now, it's on to Georgia to try to get it done again.

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