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Hugh Freeze felt like his Ole Miss football team handled everything well in College Station, Texas, Saturday. The score, 35-20 in favor of the Rebels, indicated that.

So did the start of the game for Ole Miss. It was 21-0 at halftime, and while the Rebels couldn’t necessarily coast, they were in control all night.

“It was a great atmosphere at Kyle Field. I was really pleased with our kids and how they prepared and handled the environment,” Freeze said. “And obviously the start we got.”

Freeze basically turned things over to the Rebels’ strong defense and let them continue to do their thing.

“Our defense was very solid for the better part of three and a half quarters,” he said. “Then we asked them to play too many snaps in the second half. We didn’t play with quite the same passion at the end of the game.”

Ole Miss led 35-7 before Texas A&M closed the gap in the fourth quarter. But the damage had been done, and Ole Miss had moved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Southeastern Conference play.

“To go in there and set the tone early and play a sound game, win the turnover battle and rush the football, I thought we played well enough offensively to manage the game and let our defense win it,” Freeze said.

Up next, an ever improving Tennessee team with some close losses. Otherwise the Volunteers would be better than their 3-3 overall mark and 0-2 SEC ledger.

“We’re returning home to play Tennessee, and that is exciting for us,” Freeze said. “We love playing in front of our home crowd.”

He knows the crowd will need to help the Rebels, as well as the team playing another solid game like it did against the Aggies.

“It’s one of those scary games that you know they have good enough athletes to beat you,” Freeze said. “The job Coach (Butch) Jones and his staff have done is really admirable. They are quite talented, and again, they’re hungry. They’ve played some really quality teams very, very close.”

Their two SEC losses were 35-32 at Georgia and 10-9 to Florida in Knoxville.

“I know it’s going to be a tough challenge, and I’m glad we’re at home and getting to play in front of our fans,” Freeze said.

Freeze Notes:

* On punt return team: “You have to look at what’s going on nationally with punt returns in the new spread system. The free releases that they’re getting, if they get any kind of hang time over four seconds, you’d better be willing to catch it and take a hit if you don’t fair catch it. That’s dangerous. The most important thing after a punt return is that we have possession of the ball. The thing I do not like is the hidden yardage because balls hit the ground that I think were catchable. Those are the ones you cannot allow to happen. And we’ve had a couple of those. As far as fair catching them, when we sense that clock is going off in our head, I don’t have a problem with that. I want the ball. I want possession of the ball.”

* On Tennessee’s defense: “Very athletic. They do a solid job. They’re in the right places. They don’t give up explosive plays. They’re really talented at corner, at mike linebacker, and their defensive line is extremely active and athletic.”

* On what has allowed the UM defense to move from good to elite: “The first thing that pops in my mind is Jason Jones deserves a lot of credit. Obviously Dave (Wommack) and his schematics and putting the plans together and doing a great job. You’d have to say our corners. I don’t remember a deep ball this year that we weren’t in position. That certainly doesn’t mean we’ve made every play. That hasn’t always been the case. Obviously recruiting helps that. The second thing that pops in my mind is we haven’t given up explosive plays. I’ve always been a believer being an offensive coach if you make an offense have to make a consistent drive over and over again, for 60 or 70 yards, we make mistakes on offense. You’re going to block a look wrong. If you give up explosive plays, those drives are easier. But if you really have to grind out first down after first down and then convert in the red zone, it’s difficult. Then we’ve been stingy when it does get in the red zone.”

* On Bo Wallace’s second half numbers being so good: “Probably I call better plays for him (than in the first half). Really he would probably make the same play in the first half if I was smart enough to get it called earlier. One thing he’s done for us, and I’ve had to change some, is when our defense is playing well, we’re really trying to manage the game. His numbers the other night I think could have been a lot better, because we had some things in the passing game. But in that environment when you’re playing in front of 110,000 that are itching to be a factor in the game, the last thing I want to do is give them anything to be excited about. So we got really conservative, maybe too much. Bo has done really well. Maybe I just give him better options in the second half.”

* On the sophomores and their effect on the team: “They’re very mature. I think Laquon (Treadwell), Laremy (Tunsil), are two of the more mature kids I’ve ever coached, and Tony Connor. You don’t think of them as sophomores. They really are mature kids, young men. They’re kind of the leaders of that class. I’m very pleased with the way they’re going about business.”

* On injuries: “Hopefully (D.T. Shackelford) is going to be ready to go this week. We could have played him probably more. His knee was bothering him all week, and we felt the least amount of snaps, the faster his health would come back. No other injuries that we think will hold anyone out any time.”

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