Game Week Arrives

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met the media Monday to preview the Rebels' season opener against UT-Martin. Full transcript, courtesy of Ole Miss athletics media relations.

Opening statement…
“It’s good to see all of you. It’s finally real. We are tired of talking and you are all probably tired of asking questions. It is time for us to play. Our program likes to refer to our journeys in chapters and this is chapter four, verse one. It is our first opportunity to show what our DNA will be for this year’s team. There’s never a duplication of that DNA, regardless of how many you have returning. This team is unique, with a unique makeup. We get to see the first version of it this Saturday. We are really, really excited to get it going, as I’m sure every team is. We feel as though we have had a successful camp and now it is time to play. We respect every opponent that we play. UT Martin Coach Jason Simpson is a wonderful man. He and I worked some camps together when I was at Lambuth up in the mountains at FCA camp. I have tremendous respect for Simpson and the way he does things. He coaches a very balanced football team. I believe they averaged 212 yards rushing and 214 yards passing last year. That is extremely balanced. UT Martin played two SEC opponents last year and played the ball very effectively. That tells me that Coach Simpson gets his team ready to play against big opponents, like ourselves. This doesn’t surprise me from knowing him. They have seven returners on defense, kicking game is intact and offensively they are extremely balanced. It will be a good test for us to open up the season with at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning. We are really excited to kick it off.”

On the team’s DNA…
“I wish I knew. I could sit here and make up a lot of things that I think it will be. Until you see them play in a game, I don’t know if you really know it. My wife always has this discussion with me. She always asks how the team will be. I am really never quite sure. I like what I have seen and our attitude. I like the way we have taken care of business in fall camp. There are things I wish we had paid more attention to as a coaching staff and as young men. But I don’t know that you ever don’t get those feelings. I remember when I was an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kid. I probably see things quite differently now than I did at that time. I probably put an emphasis on things that are more important for the development as a player and a person than I did when I was a young kid, too. I just think when you talk about accountability, great teams understand that. They get that. They are confident in their job. The coaches get out there and are on the sideline, teams are going at a different pace and fans are out there screaming, then you have to make an adjustment and do your job. Until you do that, and it is real, I don’t know if I can completely answer what the DNA of the team really is. I am cautiously optimistic that we are going to grasp our accountability to each other and have a successful season.”

On the starting quarterback …
“I felt pretty good this time last week, that I was in the right place. All three competed extremely well last week. Two of the three had their best week. The one that I had the gut feeling about didn’t have as great of a week. Unless something changes this week I am not ready to name a starter. I know who is going to take the first snap, but I don’t know who the starter for the season is going to be. That competition is still ongoing. This week could change my mind. Today in practice Chad Kelly is going to take the first snap with the ones. I anticipate that will carry on throughout the week leading up to Saturday. Unless something just totally changes my mindset I expect all three to play. I don’t want to be quoted today that it is locked in stone. It is a very close competition. I like all three. All three of them have different qualities that they bring. This decision is basically based upon the charts we look at every day. These charts track every single rep that these quarterbacks have had. If you look at all of the things involved, Chad Kelly has a slight edge on the other two.”

On Laquon Treadwell being back on the field…
“It will be very gratifying to see him back on the field. Something that is lost in this generation, with the media and all of the things we do, and the money our sport brings in, sometimes the relationships that we have with our players kind of get lost. Unfortunately, it takes something like this for it to be reported upon. We all have great feelings for the players that choose to come to our university and be a part of our team. I tell our kinds all of the time, I love the livelihood that me, my daughters and my wife have. And I love the things that we are able to help because of the livelihood that we are blessed to have. I wouldn’t have it without people like Laquon Treadwell. When a kid goes down with an injury it is heartbreaking. Then to see him go through the recovery process and then battle back, it is quite rewarding. We haven’t tackled him to the ground yet. So, in a strange kind of way, I look forward to seeing him get tackled. Maybe he won’t. But, I look forward to us throwing it to him for the first time, taking a hit, going to the ground and then bouncing back up and lining up for the next play. I think that will bring a weird kind of smile to my face. I’ll know that he’s back.”

On the quarterback situation…
“Until you see them do it live, you really don’t know. But I’m really not stressing too much over the quarterback situation. I think all three could lead us to play well. Which one is going to emerge as the best of them, only time will tell. I’m really not that stressed about it. I like all three. It is definitely a different feeling than there has been in the last few years.”

On the pass-catching ability of the tight ends...
“Before Jeremy Liggins’ injury in camp, he made some phenomenal catches and looked really good doing it. He’s got some great hands for a big guy. So I think he is going to have a surprising year should he stay healthy and do the little things right off the field that have slowed him down from time to time. Hunter Thurley and Dillon Barrett have both had a really good camp. I think Taz Zettergren will join them in getting some snaps. They all do a great job of catching the ball. I think we have emerged there to be adequate for this year.”

On depth of offensive line...
“We’ve got 10 guys. I wish we were a little further along in some of those areas, yes. We are going to play two lines Saturday, early in that game. It is going to be a warm game. On the turf it will be about 125 degrees if it is 95 degrees outside. We are going to play two lines, rotating them in and out early in the game.”

On UT Martin...
“Like I said earlier, they are very balanced on offense. The rush game and pass game were about equal. Anytime you can be about 50/50 on both sides it poses a threat to you defensively. Their quarterback is a very accurate passer and they do a good job of unbalancing sides and playing with some tempo. They line up with different stuff that you don’t see every week that can cause you some gap issues. It is a good scheme and he’s got good players. Coach Simpson has seven guys returning on defense, three in the defensive line and the front seven, and the entire secondary is back. They have good experience on their football team from last year. When they went and played the two SEC opponents last year, I was very impressed with the plan he had and the way those kids competed.”

On injuries...
“I think we are in a good spot. Tony (Bridges) is back, Jeremy (Liggins) is back. Rod (Taylor) is not going to play. I think he is really close, but we are not going to play Rod this week. But we feel like just about everyone else is ready to go.”

On the true freshmen that could see the field Saturday, in addition to Javon Patterson...
Zedrick Woods will play. DaMarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson are ready, I think they can play. As we get closer we are going to make some decisions on that. Those are not easy decisions. It is one of the reasons I am carrying a flag with the 85 scholarships and the longevity of the season. I’m wishing kids could play five years. Whether they play two games, or one game, I think it would be important. You never know how you are going to do health-wise. You certainly never want to play a kid early in a game and that is the only reps they get all year because the older guys stay healthy. It is very difficult. It is a tough decision to make. I think that is about it that we are considering playing right now. I forgot to mention, Carlos Davis broke his finger last week and had to have a pin put in. He could still possibly play, but we are going to wait and see how it is looking. Cameron Ordway would be the next corner should we need one.”

On the change from turf to natural grass...
“It is going to be 130 degrees on that turf on Saturday. I like grass. If I could practice on the grass every day, that is what I would want. Fortunately, we have an administration and a great athletics director in Ross Bjork that is supportive. I’m sure he is for it, too. As everything since I have been here, we are united in our vision on that. I don’t know that it is safer, in my heart I feel like it is, but I don’t have any data to back it up. I think we are in Mississippi and we ought to be able to play on grass. I’m excited about it. I’m totally in on that decision.”

On UT Martin versus other SEC teams...
“UT Martin did some really good things for a half, two and half quarters, against both Mississippi State and Kentucky. They made the plays and got them behind the chains. We are certainly preparing for it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make us look bad at certain times because they do have a good system. They know what they are doing with their blitzes. Our quarterbacks, they run the game at that time, and they’ve got to make the right decision or it could be a negative play. UT Martin does have a good plan and a good scheme.”

On Carlos Davis’ broken finger...
“We will find out how he is when we get to practice today. He had surgery last week. We are going to put a splint and pad on it and make sure he can still function.”

On Freeze’s opinion of a fining structure to discipline players...
“That wouldn’t be my first go to. I really have not given that much thought to be candid. That is not something we have discussed in detail here. I know that when the cost of attendance first got approved we did consider having another check ready at the end of the school year in case players needed to clear up any issues with school in order to get their schedules fixed. That is the only thing I remember talking about. We have never talked about fining the players. Sometimes, as college kids do, they have a bursar at the end of the semester and they owe some money for something. If we had some money there at the end to help them transition early, we did discuss that. But we have never discussed fining the players or anything that I recall. I would have to think through that one.”

On the naming a quarterback as they evolve...
“I hope that it becomes obvious as we go that I know who our guy is. Certainly at some point you have to name a starting quarterback for a given game. That doesn’t mean that he has to start the next game. But, once a guy gets into a rhythm and he does that two or three times I guess everyone is going to say he is our starter until he proves otherwise. I do expect to name someone, I think in a way you have to.”

On the run game...
“I think Saturday will be the first real test. It is very difficult to judge where you are when you go against each other for three weeks. You know, our defense knows us really well, and our offense knows us real well. I think our defense is very talented and we have had very few negative runs, which I like. So again, I am cautiously optimistic. This will be a test. The things that UT Martin is able to do can cause you some problems. We kind of dealt with it last year in game one against Boise State. They are very similar teams. There is a lot of movement. It is hard to simulate that movement as fast as it would be on game day. We are preparing for it. Hopefully my thoughts about our run game will be pleasant after the game. It is just really hard to tell where you are, but we will see very soon.”

On RB Jordan Wilkins and K Gary Wunderlich...
“I am really pleased with both of them. In our mock game on Saturday Gary Wunderlich was 4-for-4 and hit a 55-yarder. It was really solid. Jordan Wilkins has had a really good spring and a really good camp. I would say right now he is the 1a and 1b with Jaylen Walton. Akeem Judd is doing well too, so those guys will all get some playing time.”

On creating chemistry with the team...
“I think our chemistry is pretty good. Our coaches have done a really good job. Here is the question that we started asking in our position room and with staff, first. I think it is a good question in life for anyone who is serious about being who you want to be: What if everyone in this room was just like me? I think when you ask that question around coaches, I don’t mean have the same emotions I have, but I mean if they approached practice, recruiting, academics, social responsibility, etc. like I do, what would our team be like? This question brought about some very interesting conversations and some transparency that I think is very good and creates trust. We had some good conversations around our coaches table about that. You have men say, ‘I need to up my efforts here. I need to up my responsibility here.’ Then you go around the players and you have them say, ‘you know, coach, if everyone was like me on the practice field, we’d be good. But if everyone was like me in the classroom, we wouldn’t be so good.’ I think the first step to all of us realizing where our weaknesses are is talking about it and admitting it. That is where we started camp. I think it has been really good for us.”

On players stepping up after fall camp...
“I’d say the backup tight ends that we mentioned early. I am pretty confident in what Evan Engram can do. We need more from him. I think Jordan Sims, Daronte Bouldin, Christian Morris, Sean Rawlings, those guys who haven’t played a lot of snaps, they are going to play Saturday. We need them to prove they are worthy of doing that week in and week out. I’ve been pleased with them so far, but I would say offensive line guys like that will step up. Terry Calwell, DeMarquis Gates and Christian Russell will also show us what they can do. I am confident in want Denzel Nkemdiche can do. We know C.J. Johnson is a football player, but we really need those guys to play well in that position. Don’t forget long snapper. I am spoiled now. We have gone three years with the same guy that never had a bad snap. Sometimes you take that for granted. There will be a battle for that position in Will Few and Michael Taylor.”


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