Loosey Goosey

The Rebels have a major challenge facing them when No. 8 Missouri rolls into town Saturday night, and they are intent on having a winning effort, but it seems as if the order of the day from the coaching staff is to stay loose and have fun as well. That was the atmosphere at Tuesday's practice in the stadium.

Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze has always had intense, focused practices. Tuesday in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, as the Rebs prepare for Missouri, was no different, but there was also an air of fun and depressurizing.

Did Freeze mandate that feeling? Mandate is probably too strong a word. Encouraged is more appropriate.

"I want this team, in year two of our program, to enjoy where they are and embrace the opportunity we have the final two games," noted Freeze. "I don't want them playing with a lot of pressure. Intense and passionate for sure, but go out there and have fun doing what you love and representing yourself and this university."

Regardless of the approach, Freeze understands the challenge ahead and he did not like the way things started in Tuesday's practice. The ending, however, was fine.

"We were too sloppy in Red Ball, so we started over," he continued. "From there, it picked up nicely. Our focus was elevated and we had a decent practice.

"With everything Missouri does, there is a lot to cover. We have to make sure our kids understand what we are asking them what to do on both sides of the ball."

Freeze made a point in Monday's press conference to emphasize how important it would be for the Rebs to be able to run the ball, but Missouri is very good at stopping the ground game.

"Nobody has run the ball on them much. They have one of the best rushing defenses in the country and we aren't near as good offensively when we can't run it," he stated. "They have a good scheme and they have talent. Their DL and in-the-box linebackers are very, very good. They are physical, they play hard and their pad level is good - the things you expect from a Top 10 team.

Hugh Freeze
Associated Press

"A big part of their scheme is run blitzing and run twists. That makes it difficult to put a hat on everyone. When you do that, you risk making a mistake and giving up an explosive run, but Missouri doesn't seem to make those mistakes."

Random Notes:

* After watching film of the Troy game, Freeze was pleased with the way TB Jeff Scott looked on his return to action after a few weeks on the injury list. "I thought Jeff looked good and he looked good today, but I am happy with all the backs," he said. "We'll continue to use all three with Jaylen (Walton) and Itavius (Mathers) and we will have spots for Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore."

* It was anticipated senior Cornerback Charles Sawyer would return for the game against the Tigers, but after working some indo Sunday and taking Monday off with the rest of the team, he did not dress out for Tuesday's practice. Unless Sawyer has a very quick recovery in the next day or two, look for the corners to be Mike Hilton and Derrick Jones on one side and Senquez Golson, Bobby Hill and Carlos Davis on the other. "I'm calling him doubtful. If he doesn't come back tomorrow, it will be difficult for him to go because of all the things we are having to do coverage wise against them. He couldn't learn it all," said Freeze. . . . Jones may be a big key for the Rebels Saturday. "I love his progress and with his size, I think he is going to have to play a lot of snaps Saturday," Freeze added.

* What are the biggest challenges facing the Rebs when they quare off against the Tigers? Freeze says you can throw a dart at their roster and get a good answer. "I think they are the most complete team we have faced," he said. "They do some things - like pass rush and catch the ball - extremely well, but they don't have any apparent weaknesses, plus they play a style of offense that is difficult to defend because they spread you out and use the whole field as good as anyone we will face."

* Defensive End John Youngblood returned to practice after missing the Troy game due to a concussion he got against Arkansas. Youngblood was backing up Cameron Whigham when he was injured. Since then, D.T. Shackelford and Temario Strong have been filling in for Youngblood.

* Defensive End Carlos Thompson, who has nerve damage in his shoulder as the result of three different stingers, is officially out for the remainder of the season. The bad news is that you never know when nerve damage will regenerate. The good news is that Thompson is showing gradual improvement and, if all goes well, he should be back in the fold for spring training.

* Besides Sawyer, and the four players - DE C.J. Johnson, OG Aaron Morris, TE Evan Engram and DE Carlos Thompson - out for the year, the Rebels are as healthy as they have been since early in the season. It appears as if DT Robert Nkemdiche, DT Issac Gross, CB Mike Hilton, TB Jeff Scott, DE Cameron Whigham, OL Patrick Junen, MLB Temario Strong, RT Pierce Burton, WR Vince Sanders, QB Barry Brunetti, LB Serderius Bryant, LB Denzel Nkemdiche, CB Senquez Golson and DT Carlton Martin, who have all missed time this season, are all healthy and ready for the final two games of the season.

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