“I’m going to enjoy this week. Last week I have to be candid, it wasn’t an enjoyable week,” said the former Memphian and high school head coach at Briarcrest. “This week, I’m going to enjoy it and have fun. I know our kids are going to play extremely hard.”
Last week was Memphis. Ole Miss won 24-3 at home but struggled, especially in two of three phases of the game. The Rebel defense was spectacular.
Was it a trap game? Was it improvement by Memphis? Were the Rebs looking ahead to Alabama? Was some of it because ESPN’s Game Day was on the line?
Was it the neighborhood rivalry aspect - at least for the Tigers it’s a rivalry – that means Memphis has more focus and emphasis on it than maybe Ole Miss does? The Rebels have only lost to Memphis 10 times in 60 meetings.
Freeze didn’t get into specifics of why last week was less fun. Most of Rebel fandom likely felt the same way.
Memphis is done. Alabama is coming. The roles are reversed as far as the series goes. The Crimson Tide owns Ole Miss historically with 47 wins in 58 meetings, and the Rebels haven’t won that game since beating Alabama twice when Eli Manning was the quarterback here – 2001 and 2003.
In Oxford, with only eight games played here between the two schools, the series is a little tighter with Ole Miss winning three and losing five.
None of that matters Saturday. Or does it?
Alabama will come in full of confidence that it will win. No current Alabama players have lost to Ole Miss. No Rebels on the 2014 roster have beaten Alabama.
Freeze said the Rebels will prepare to compete and want to win. But it won’t be the end of the season if things don’t work out for Ole Miss.
“We’ll play extremely hard. Whatever happens with this game Saturday certainly we can’t make too much out of a win or too much out of a loss," he said. "There’s a lot of the season left and a lot to play for.”
Freeze was asked about having ESPN Game Day on campus, which normally recognizes a national headline game, unless they go to Fargo, N.D., or one of the service academies.
“Are you kind of pinching yourself that two and a half years ago you took over a program that was in the dumpster and now you’ve got Game Day here?” rolled the question from a media member.
“I think that’s a great point,” Freeze said, 19-11 now after inheriting a team that had gone 2-10 in 2011 and 4-8 in 2010. “I hope everybody understands that. I really want our people to enjoy the journey. I think it’s human nature for all of us to get our heads in the clouds with what’s going and to get what we want right now. We all want that.
“But in our staff time this morning, I reminded our coaches exactly what the process has been like for our journey to get us to this point. It’s certainly happened faster than I thought possible when we first got here. So I do have to pinch myself.”
Freeze continued on those same thoughts with Ole Miss facing another huge moment in its football life as a national contender rolls in. These games happen from time to time. Each season Ole Miss faces a highly ranked team or two, sometimes even three, in the tough Southeastern Conference.
Rarely have as many of the nation’s eyes focused on Oxford and Ole Miss and the football program as there will on Saturday, all the way from an early breakfast until postgame dinner.
“I’m thankful. I thank God every day for this job and for the opportunity we have to impact the lives of the kids in our program,” Freeze said. “And also for the opportunity to compete.”
The Rebels will have to compete at their best to win. Freeze knows the stats of where the teams rank. And they are close in the league.
“Hopefully our team will play its best game of the year. It will take that,” he said. “This is the No. 1 (Ole Miss) and 2 (Alabama) ranked defenses in our conference and No. 2 (Alabama) and 4 (Ole Miss) total offenses. Something's got to give at some point. We're looking forward to the challenge.”
* On the Alabama defense:
“I believe I am accurate in saying this, I don’t think there has been a team rush and pass for over a hundred yards against Alabama in the same game the last two seasons. It’s very difficult to rush the football against them. They’re so well coached, have a really good scheme, a really good plan. And they have really good players. It’s a tall task. You have to be balanced. You have to mix it up. You have to find things that give your kids a chance to do the things you’re asking them to do. But it’s a very difficult defense to do it against.”
* On Lane Kiffin’s effect on the Crimson Tide offense:
“They’ve always been very good offensively. They certainly have some different things now to add to that. Having the kids that they have make their schemes even better. I know Coach (Nick) Saban is getting out of his kids what they want. And with Lane they have changed a bit offensively and it is making them more difficult to defend.”
* On balancing his time as head coach this week and on a game day when many recruits are in town:
“It’s very difficult to balance the time all the media requests and preparing for a very difficult opponent. Then there are all the recruits that want to come to this game. It is difficult. You have to be organized. We’ll be on the phone a lot tonight with recruits on Monday night calls. We’ll try to handle it as best we can. The biggest thing that’s a disadvantage on a week like this is that I’m in Tupelo (with the team at the hotel Friday night and Saturday morning), and the recruits are here. That’s always been difficult for me. I struggle leaving our team and preparing for a game. At the same time I need to spend time with those (recruits). We’ll have some official visits here, and I’ll get to see those guys Sunday. But that’s not as much time as you want to spend with them. In January you get to spend time Friday, Saturday and Sunday. During the season it’s not that way. So that’s a challenge and it’s difficult."
* On the Rebels’ offensive line now as opposed to a month ago:
“No question they’ve improved. They’re better. We’ve still got some needs to address in recruiting. That’s the No. 1 need on that side of the ball in recruiting. We’re on our way hopefully to filling some of those needs.”
* On injuries this week:
“We feel pretty good. There are some nagging ones and some bruises and pains. Senquez (Golson) would be the biggest concern. He didn’t play probably the last quarter and a half of the (Memphis) game with a tight hamstring. He would be the biggest concern. We’ve got a couple of ankles – Aaron Morris, Mark Dodson, D.T. Shackelford. But we don’t expect them to miss any time this week.”
Hugh Freeze On Monday
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