'Time To Play'

After a month between the Egg Bowl and the BBVA Compass Bowl, the Ole Miss Rebels are anxious to get back into game action. They will get their chance tomorrow at noon against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

It's been a month, with two breaks away from football in between practice times, since the Ole Miss Rebels have played a game.

The last taste of game action was in the Egg Bowl, which the Rebels won 41-24 in convincing fashion.

Next up, Pitt at noon tomorrow at Legion Field in the Compass Bowl.

"We're thrilled to be here. It's time to play. The BBVA folks have been incredible hosts and we've had a wonderful time," Ole Miss head caoch Hugh Freeze, at the podium with QB Bo Wallace and LB Denzel Nkemdiche at the pregame press conference.

"Our kids have enjoyed the bowl experience, but now it's time to turn our attention to winning a game. Hopefully, our guys can rise to the occasion and play their best football."

It's been a long month and the anxiety to get back in action is present.

"From a coaching perspective, it's unsettling. You go through all the things that could happen and watch all the other bowls. Some of them have been ready to play and some of them haven't.

"It's like you are starting a new season again, but you have to depend on the men you have prepared for the 12 previous games and hope they understand the magnitude of the moment. We expect to see leadership exhibited and to play well."

Wallace said it hit him last night that the game is right around the corner.

"We started getting tweets that the fans were on the way and things like that. It sinks in the game is here and you start getting some anxiety," said Wallace. "It's time to get it going."

Bo Wallace
Chuck Rounsaville

For Nkemdiche, it's a hunger to play again after such a long layoff.

"We love the game. We can't wait to get back out there and play another game. It seems like forever since we have played," Nkemdiche noted. "I want to make sure everyone is hungry and ready to go tomorrow."

If the Rebels defeat Pitt, it can be a strong bridge to recruiting and the 2013 season, but Freeze said he will not make too much of that.

"I'll never make too much or to little of a win or a loss in the building stage of our program, but there is no question winning tomorrow is important," Freeze said. "I am a big momentum guy and a win would keep our momentum we gained from winning the Egg Bowl going into recruiting and into spring training. It would raise expectations for next year and create even more excitement for the 2013 season. It's very important from a momentum standpoint."

Nkemdiche was asked what the biggest difference from 2011 and 2012 was.

"We are a team now. We are treating each other like brothers and we love each other," Nkemdiche said. "We have become a family while competing at the highest level. The closer you are, the harder you will play for each other.

"Last year, we had some selfishness on the team. That is out of the picture now. We are playing for each others, the coaches and the fans and it's a total turnaround this year in that regard."

That was one reason for the turnaround from 2-10 to 6-6, but Wallace said there were other factors.

"We were so inexperienced early in the year and we let some games get away. Once we started buying in and getting some experience, we started winning some games. When we started trusting the coaches and ourselves and believing in ourselves, some good things happened," Wallace added.

Freeze said the way everyone handled losses also helped.

"We didn't let any loss beat us twice. We didn't carry things over. We stayed even-keeled throughout and I think that helped us," Freeze said. "We didn't win some games we should have, but we stayed together and kept our eyes on the target and came out OK."

Denzel Nkemdiche
Chuck Rounsaville

Now, it's Pitt, a formidable foe.

"I wanted to play against a BCS opponent. It adds to the excitement to play a team that took Notre Dame to three overtimes and finished strong, like we did by beating our in-state rival," Freeze said. "We have great respect for Pitt.

"They're well-coached, they play hard, they don't turn the ball over, they don't have many penalties. They're sound in what they do and don't make a lot of mistakes. They're balanced on offense and they don't play a lot of people on defense, but they're great effort guys. It'll be a great test for us."

At the end of the presser, a Pitt writer asked Wallace and Nkemdiche to talk about their first-year coach, Freeze.

"Coach Freeze came in and won us over with love. He's a player's coach. There're nothing you can face that he's not there to try and help and guide you. He is always there when you need him," said Nkemdiche. "He doesn't take it easy on you. He gets the best out of you. I love playing for him. I love him."

Wallace had similar sentiments.

"He changed the culture here. I talked to some of the guys I played with at Arkansas State where he was last year and they told me - listen, buy in and the wins will come," Wallace noted. "That's exactly how it played out and we want to continue that in the bowl game against an excellent Pitt team."

The wait is almost over, thankfully.

It's been a month, a long month, but now it's time to play.

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