Game Week

The question came from the back of the room, a TV reporter who prefaced his remarks but was interrupted by Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze – in a jovial manner.

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"Hugh, I know most coaches will tell you they're never ready and they want more time……."

"I don't want any more time. I don't," said Freeze, whose Rebels begin their season Thursday night at Vanderbilt.

Take from that what you will, but it likely means a couple of things – the second more important than the first: that the coaches and players are ready for a game, and that Freeze feels they are prepared.

"Our coaches are glad and our kids are glad," he said of it being gameweek as the Rebels and Commodores open on national TV on ESPN. "Several of them text me this morning, and I saw their tweets early this morning. I think that everyone's excited about it. I'm sure Vandy is, too. We're ready to go play and see how we're going to start this season, year two of the journey. I have no idea what the results will be. But I do believe very strongly that our kids are going to play extremely hard."

Freeze said playing a Southeastern Conference game to open the season is challenging. But it did seem to have a different feel to it throughout the summer when it's that big a game.

"Opening with Vanderbilt in Nashville is certainly something that's grabbed the attention of our kids and staff, and their kids and staff," he said. "Opening on national TV on Thursday night is a responsibility we have to this university, and we don't take that lightly. We're very motivated. We don't get a tune-up game, we'll have to do it for real in a tough environment. Last year against South Carolina no question Coach Franklin had his team ready and a couple of plays from knocking off a top-ten team."

Freeze said the program is still in a building stage, and that it remains to be seen where things stand.

"We're still thin at some spots but we're better there than at this time last year," he said. "I don't know if that will equate to more wins or not. But (recruiting class/newcomers) has made things better this year than last year."

Freeze said that while it is an opener, that means there is nothing to base things on as to what Vandy might do – except the past.

"The same staff is there, and I can't imagine them changing a lot," he said. "They've won a lot of games the last few years. They return a lot of seniors, Defensively they're loaded with experience. Offensively it's a challenge, because we don't have the quarterback they're playing (on collegiate game film)."

Hugh Freeze
Bruce Newman

Last season the Commodores won on a Jordan Rogers to Chris Boyd touchdown pass late. The extra point by Carey Spear was the final point in a 27-26 Commodore win.

Rogers is gone. Boyd won't play. Spear actually does return.

"The difference in that game was Ole Miss did not produce in the red zone, in the tight red zone," Freeze said. "We'll give them credit. They had a good plan. All year long they were good in red zone defense. We had to settle for too many field goals. The entire year we were excellent. We were one of the top two in the conference and top five maybe in the nation in red zone scoring. But that night we couldn't get in the end zone."

Freeze said scoring touchdowns and not field goals will again be critical.

"I think that's one of the key matchups in this game," he said. "If we're fortunate enough to get it down there, are we coming away with six points and not three, some of the time, at least."

Freeze indicated his team's youth and Vanderbilt's maturity would also be another key in the contest. How the young Rebels handle the situation of being on the road and on national TV will go a long way to determine the outcome.

"You look at the game and see a mature, experienced team vs. a young, inexperienced team," he said. "I do think one of the keys to the game is how our young kids handle it when good things happen to Vandy. Red zone scoring, turnovers, and are we able to stop the run and not give up the big play."

Last season Ole Miss trailed Central Arkansas at halftime of the season opener. It was Freeze's first game at Ole Miss as head coach. The Rebels won 49-27.

This year, a tougher situation come Thursday.

"We don't have a tuneup game," he said. "We're going to have to do it on the road in a tough environment for real. It's going to be a great challenge but one we're very excited about."

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