Tale of Three

Ole Miss worked indoors Wednesday in preparation for its Saturday tilt with Arkansas. Full practice report inside.

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Hugh Freeze had a plan.

Three years ago, he sat down with Archie Manning and Mike Glenn and interviewed for the then-vacant Ole Miss head coaching job. He laid out a detailed process to pull the Rebels out of college football obscurity, to fix the broken 2-10 (0-8 SEC) football team he would soon inherit.

My, how times have changed.

“I’m thrilled in year three for us to be where we are,” Freeze said Wednesday, his team having wrapped another practice in preparation for the Razorbacks. “I think it’s way ahead of schedule. Of course we want to finish strong. Anything above this now even expedites this journey a little faster, but you have to go earn it. The only thing I can think about is playing at Arkansas on Saturday and is playing at a level that gives us a chance to go win it in the fourth quarter.”

The Rebels, following back-to-back bowl-winning seasons, are 8-2 (4-2 SEC) with a road trip to Fayetteville to face Arkansas up next. Game time is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on CBS.

They’re ranked No. 8 in the country and remain in the conversation for the College Football Playoff. If things fall their way – an Auburn win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl, for example, and assuming they win out – would mean a trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game for the first time in school history, as well as the possibility of competing for a national championship.

“My original plan that I had, that I actually presented in my interview, was that we would be going to a bowl game this year,” Freeze said. “That was the goal. To be very competitive and find a way to get enough wins to go to a bowl game. That was the original plan, but we’re excited it didn’t work out. I’m glad I was wrong. I was dead wrong.”

Ole Miss is coming off a much-needed bye week before a critical two-week stretch of games which will conclude with the annual Egg Bowl rivalry game against in-state foe Mississippi State.

If nothing else, the break allowed the Rebels some time to get healthy, as well as prepare for life without injured wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who broke his ankle and fractured the fibula in his left leg in a 35-31 loss to Auburn three weeks ago.

“It’s given us time to work with those receivers who needed extra reps – Quincy (Adeboyejo), Derrick Jones and Cody Core, because he’s playing a different spot now,” Freeze said. “I think their ability is capable of doing it, you just got to get them comfortable where they’re playing with great confidence, ‘cause every week you try to add a new wrinkle or route concept you think will be good.

“If you’re not careful, they get a little overload and they’re not playing with confidence or at a fast speed. Having that off week to really give us two weeks to give kind of look at the concepts we want to carry has given them quite a few more reps at it.”

Good news, too, is left tackle Laremy Tunsil, a sophomore and midseason All-American, is back to full speed, though he’s wearing a harness on his left arm to help alleviate the pain he’s dealt with since suffering a bicep tear that kept him out against Auburn and Presbyterian.

Ole Miss is all hands on deck with its offensive line. Aaron Morris has returned to full health. He’s currently in a three-way rotation with Justin Bell and freshman Rod Taylor at first-team guard.

“Rod is getting reps with the ones,” Freeze said. “We’re rotating a three-way deal with the ones with him and Aaron and Justin. Robert is playing center with the twos and rotating in at tackle with the ones.”

Ole Miss has everything in front of it – a far cry from where the program was no so long ago.

“We talked about the possibilities that are right at their fingertips for the senior class,” Freeze said. “To buy-in and hold others accountable and start doing the little things, that’s the reason the turnaround has happened as fast as it has.

“To know that you still have a chance to go earn more things and see where the cookie crumbles at the end of the day. You never know. But you’re sitting in a pretty good spot compared to where you were a few years ago. I’m glad to see them go out like this and I think the reality is that we can’t hide anything from these kids anymore. In the social media world there’s so much out there, they see that they have a chance to be in one of those elite categories at the end of the year with some of the nation’s best. That would be fun to do.”

Chuck’s Random Notes:

*Still good news on the injury front. . . Left Tackle Laremy Tunsil (bicep) practiced full speed again on Wednesday and it looks as if the plans are for him to start against Arkansas Saturday. . . LG Aaron Morris (quad strain) has also practiced all week and has taken his rightful spot on the OL all week workouts. . . LB Keith Lewis (concussion) has been cleared to play and has practiced all week. . . PK Gary Wunderlich (hamstring) is kicking this week after a two week layoff. . . FS Cody Prewitt (ribs) has not missed any practices this week and is participating in all drills.

*From the can’t-wait department: the Rebels practiced Wednesday in the Manning Center with piped in “Hog” music and Soooieee-pig chants. Simply cannot wait to hear the real thing. Sarcasm noted?

*While he won’t start at wideout, a valuable player this week could be converted DB Derrick Jones, who is now at wide receiver. He caught five passes, one for a score, against Presbyterian and seems to have found his groove at that position. His practices this week have been impressive.

*TB I’Tavius Mathers turned 21 today. A good present to himself would be a productive day in Fayetteville.

*Versus LSU, the Rebel coaches went with a bigger lineup on the front four that had Bryon Bennett at DE instead of defensive tackle. A possibility this week against the massive Hogs? We’ll have to wait and see, but it was effective for a long time against the Tigers.

*Backup QB Ryan Buchanan missed Tuesday’s practice with a stomach virus. He was dressed out for Wednesday’s workout.

*Redshirt TE Sammie Epps reported in June for his freshman campaign weighing 210 pounds. He is now at 229 pounds and is filling out nicely. The goal for him starting next season is 235-240. Sounds realistic at the pace he is on now and he still looks on the thin side. He has the frame for that much weight and more.

*We’ve mentioned redshirt DT Breeland Speaks and DE Victor Evans several times in our practice reports. Here’s another tidbit, a scouting report from an offensive coach. “Breeland has a chance to be special. He is athletic, strong and he’s got a nasty streak. He doesn’t mind mixing it up and he’s active off the ball. Victor is very athletic and very explosive. Once he learns to turn it loose more often, he will be special too.”

*Thursday’s practice is closed. There will be no report.

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