Transcript: Hugh Freeze Press Conference

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met the media Monday for his weekly press conference. Full transcript included.

Opening Statement...
I’m very happy about the win. It’s good to see that our people were having some good things to rejoice about with our program. That is something that was very important to me when I came here. It’s really good to see our kids. A lot of credit goes out to Alabama, their staff, their kids. I guess on three different occasions I let my mind go really where it shouldn’t go at where maybe the game was already over. But they showed their character, and that shows from their coaching staff and their players. They fought for 60 minutes, which is something that we pride on also. We had to fight to get out of there with a win. A lot of credit goes to them. I was really pleased with our approach this past week, from our staff and players. One of the things I started last Sunday was harping that I want our coaches and players to enjoy the moments we have together. These opportunities that you have, they don’t come around, in my lifetime, so often that you look at those moments and sometimes, unfortunately I look back and say I really missed my time to enjoy the journey because I am so caught up and worried about results. I was just determined all week long that we were going to enjoy the journey and the process, and we really wanted to make it about the people and the journey instead of the results. I really like the approach that we took with that, and the theme of being who we are, and that is good enough, no matter what the results say. So I was pleased with that approach. Grading the film, first, I would give myself an F for dancing. I have zero game when it comes to that. But I don’t mind doing that with our players as part of the journey of doing that together. Eric Church did say I could sing, though. For a guy like me, known by many as a country boy and a girls’ basketball coach and many of those things, to get to hang out with Eric Church in a locker room, that is big time for me. I enjoyed that. Offense: zero turnovers in that environment and seven explosive plays are, I thought, really good. I told everyone that asked about the game that I thought the team that had the least amount of turnovers and the most amounts of explosive plays would turn out to win the game. That proved to be pretty accurate. Those were some good things. We take pride when a break comes our way and we score. We did that. I was really pleased with the confidence I felt from the offensive guys on the sideline. Momentum would shift back and forward as it does when two good teams were playing. I really felt like they had confidence that they could go back out and score. They seemed pretty confident. On the negative side, we weren’t very good on third downs, and we missed several opportunities on explosive plays. We need to get those corrected. We played against a really good defensive front that made our job very difficult. Defensively, it was really a story of two halves. These positives were that they had three takeaways that resulted in points. We gave up five explosive plays and we had 22 missed tackles, which is not common for us. Our red zone defense was not what we expected. The first half defense was what we want, with the exception of the last drive. I thought we really had a dominating performance. The second half, I will have to take the blame, and credit Alabama, but I don’t know if I did a really good job of getting our defense ready in regards to the emotion and the output of energy that you are going to have to have for those guys to play in those games. An example being (Robert) Nkemdiche. The first game he played 18 plays, second game he played 22 plays. Then, all of a sudden, you ask him to play on a humid night, go out against one of the nation’s best teams and play 80 plays. Would it have been smart for me to have played him some more in the first two games? I don’t know. You take the risk of getting injured. He’s not the only one. Mike Hilton, we asked him to double his plays. Trae Elston and all of those guys were asked to. It is just hard to simulate what you are going to ask them to do on a Saturday night in a battle like that. I though fatigue really showed. We were a tired defense. Again, credit Alabama for keeping us on the field. We couldn’t get off the field on third down at times of critical downs. I thought it was a tale of two halves. On special teams, two takeaways; that is phenomenal. Kickoff coverage unit got those. It was Channing Ward who continues to make big plays on those. It is pretty special when you open the game and you get a possession when you defer it. PAT/field goal unit was awesome. Give some credit to (Will) Few and (Gary) Wunderlich. For those guys, it was their first big time environment and they did really well. Our other special teams were average. I guess what I want to say is we are really happy to win. There were a lot of positives, but we can play a lot better. This is a great week for us to really take it up a notch. The expectations and domains from our coaching staff are doing some little things better than what we did on Saturday evening, and hopefully we can improve this week. I think this week and throughout the course of the year, you have to continue to improve, because someone somewhere is. And those teams will be the best teams come October and November. We play a very dangerous team this week in my opinion. Derek’s team (Vanderbilt) is playing extremely hard for him. Defensively, I think they are playing very well. They are only giving up 17 points per game, only 270 yards per game. They have some really good individuals in No. 55, No. 69, No. 35. Those guys stand out, as does No. 32. They are very multiple, and I really thought they held their own against a good Georgia team, particularly for two and a half quarters. They played a very explosive Western Kentucky team and held them to 246 total yards also. So I think he takes pride in his defense. You can tell they play extremely hard and have a good scheme. Offensively, I think the quarterback is coming into his own. He is throwing the ball extremely well right now. So it’s going to be an interesting game for us. We are beaten up a bit, and that is something you are concerned about. Hopefully you have your best players to put your best foot forward, and you don’t always have that in this game. One of the things I despise most about this game is young men that put so much effort into preparing, and you get bad news that they are injured. That is something that every team has to go through. But we have to handle it. We will be without Tony Connor for a minimum of four weeks. He is going to have surgery tomorrow. He has a meniscus tear in his knee. Justin Bell is questionable this week. (Tony) Bridges is questionable this week. (Robert) Conyers is questionable this week. We have some issues there, but we need to handle them, and we’ll get the next one we have ready. It might take some juggling around, but it’s time to get ready for the next one.

On playing freshmen late in the game on the offensive line…
We finished the last two quarters with two freshmen on the offensive line, which was a huge task against that front. They held their own at times, got beat some. I think you’re going to get beat some when you play that caliber of competition. But I was really proud of the way they fought. They really fought hard. Those kids are great kids, and we need them. They are going to improve. They’re young and learning how to go about this kind of deal. But I was really proud of their effort, and there is no question we will get good effort from them moving forward.

On whether he like the offense or defense being number one in the nation…
I want both to be number one. I am an offensive guy, I like when we score points, but defense wins big games for us. We have to get some stops. The first half the other night, we looked like the number one defense in the country again. The second half, we didn’t play very well on defense. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were asking our kids to play too many snaps. We didn’t do a good enough job rotating our guys in the first half. We have to improve that. We need to make sure our kids know what they can do in the game. My personality is let’s score a lot of points, but it really is a calming factor if you know you can get some stops on third down. So I would take the number one defense, but we are going to work to get to that point.

On the juggling of the offensive line…
We’ll move Zed (Zedrick Woods) there full time. He’s been working at one of the safeties long with A.J. Moore. Chief (Brown), will be a guy. He runs all three (positions). We need to get C.J. Hampton ready to play. He was out for two weeks. We didn’t get him enough reps. Hopefully, he knocked some of the rust off last week and he’ll get ready to go this week.

On Robert Nkemdiche’s play…
I thought it was his best game that he has had since he’s been here. Few people can play the number of snaps that he did with the production that he had. He’s kind of a freak of an athlete because he was able to do that. I thought he was able to finish plays when he had the opportunity and was disruptive. That’s the way he needs to play for us to have success, but I was proud of his effort.

On what Robert Nkemdiche is doing differently this year to improve…
Probably just maturity and understanding this is what you have to do to make the next step in progression to be a great defensive lineman. That’s being very clear with him and showing it on tape. I think it is just repetition, more reps with Coach Kiffin, and he stays after some. He wants to be good. He wants to be really good. He has the potential to be that, so with those expectations you need to put a little more effort to make sure your technique is sound. He sure was disruptive. He wasn’t just disruptive, he always is, but he finished plays.

On Vanderbilt and what their offense brings to the table…
It is a bit different. They have a new coordinator. I think he came from Wisconsin. So you’re seeing a flavor of that. A lot of personnel, they’re number one personnel group you’re going to see, they will get a lot from No. 12 and No. 22, a lot of shifts and motions. You have to adjust and be gap sound against those guys because they are going to try to get you moving. With all the shifts and motions, you can be a bit gap unsound. So they present an issue. It is a little different. Some similarities, but some differences also. Passing game is definitely different.

On who they look to get reps on the offensive line while players are injured…
We’ll go with Rod (Taylor) and if (Justin) Bell can’t go we’ll go with Taylor and Jordan (Sims) at right guard. And we’ll leave the rest of it pretty much the same. Justin wasn’t just our guard, but he's our backup center. (Robert) Conyers is a little dinged right now, so we’ll have to see who we can install that we have confidence in. But we’ll have to get someone else ready, probably (Jacob) Feeley, a walk-on guy, who we are very glad to have that’ll have to be a backup snapper also. Maybe we can give it to Javon (Patterson) to snap some in an emergency situation this week. Knowing that Aaron (Morris) had his best game, he did some good things, we’ll get him some more reps so he can get better. You might see (Jeremy) Liggins take some snaps at offensive tackle.

On what the defense did to cause turnovers…
I think we present a lot of different looks for the quarterback, which might be bad in some instances because we were in bad position sometimes. But it does create some turnovers. Our guys did a good job disguising our looks. It’s a lot of different looks for the quarterback to process, and sometimes it causes him to throw it into coverage. We have had a knack, the last few years, trying to get a lot of turnovers, and that is probably why.

On how far the team can go…
I think it depends on the leadership of our team. If our team wants to be a serious team that contends throughout the course of our year, they need to control their preparation. They can’t control injuries, nor can I. But they can control how the ones that we have ready to play prepare. If we really want to be one of the teams that is being talked about and put on a national scene, our kids are going to have to understand that and we will preach it to them, but ultimately, the longer I do this, you better have some leadership in that locker room that gets it. If they do, we’ll have a chance to be okay. If not, we’ll probably flounder around a little bit. I’m very pleased at this point. But as seen at this point in this game, you can get beat any given Saturday by anyone. If that leadership is not consistent, and if you are looking in the rearview mirror, you will wreck. You can’t drive looking in the rearview mirror, and you can’t play this game looking in the rearview mirror. We celebrate our victories, we had fun, and those were great memories. But just like life, you are on to the next struggle, and that struggle is to prepare to play Vanderbilt on Sunday.

On what the team does to focus, and how they deal with injuries…
Just what I said, I don’t think it is a refocus. If we just understand how we should go about preparing from week to week for any given task that we have, it has to happen in the locker room first. And that means staying off my distractions list every week. I don’t want to see names showing up on that. I don’t think you’re preparing well when you show up on that list. You need to handle your academic life right, your social life right, and of course the time we are together you need to prepare well. We need to continue to preach those things and create good habits. Hopefully we will have good leadership to do that. Injuries are always a concern because you can’t control it. I typically have a mindset of when I can’t control something, I don’t worry about it too much. And I can’t control those. Do I like it? Absolutely not. But I can’t dwell on that. It always is a concern, but I have to control what I control, and that is to prepare the ones that I have to play. Our training staff will get everyone ready that can go.

On the recruiting impact of winning against Alabama…
I think it’s a bump, and I think that bump might last for a couple of weeks. I think it comes back to the relationship. It allows you to get in the game with maybe 5-10 guys that you may have not been in it with. I think that is a realistic bump from it. I think that gets you in the game. But I don’t think one single game makes or breaks you.

On Chad Kelly’s play…
He played average. I think he would tell you that. He made some big plays. He is a competitive dude. He’s a winner. He has an “it” factor to him. Somebody said that regards to that, it was his real first test in a difficult place to play. He didn’t have any false starts. Our communication was pretty good. He had a couple of protections sitting the wrong way. Some of it was because we didn’t go fast at all in the second quarter because our defense was on the field so much. It kind of changed a little bit about how we approached it offensively. There were about three or four times that we missed on explosive plays because he is glued in and not going through the progression he needs to go through. We need to coach him better and get him more prepared.

On a status update for Laremy Tunsil
I have asked for an update, and I sure hope I get some this week, but right now I am getting the guys that I have ready. I don’t have an update for you, but I sure hope to have one this week.


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