Rebels all business, looking to prove they belong after last season

Ole Miss reported to New Orleans Saturday to begin on-site preparations for its Jan. 1 showdown with Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze:

Opening statement:

“Thrilled to be here. From the time that it was announced that we were selected for the Allstate Sugar Bowl, it was excitement from Rebel Nation and obviously our staff and kids. We enjoyed a little time off for Christmas, and I’m anxiously awaiting our team meeting tonight so I can look our guys in the eyes and remind them why they’re here -  to compete against a very good Oklahoma State football team.”

On playing in New Orleans:

“We get to play in one of the greatest venues in college athletics and historically, for OIe Miss, playing in the Sugar Bowl means so much. I know our fans will show up and be very vocal and I want our kids to be able to enjoy that.”

On Oklahoma State:

“Oklahoma State and coach Gundy’s team is a really, really, really good football team. They score in a lot of ways and their special teams are solid. Defensively, they remind us a lot of us; stingy in the red zone, give up some yards but when you’re playing good offenses like they have you are going to give up some.”

On handling down time:

“I just stress the importance of why we’re coming to this game and the honor it is to represent the Southeastern Conference in the Sugar Bowl. It’s a big deal, and let’s embrace it and be sure we understand it. That should reflect in how we handle our down time. All the hoopla that surrounds these games is great for this sport but we have to keep our mind focused on preparing.”

On motivation after last season’s Peach Bowl loss:

“It’s hard for me to judge players. I don’t know about them, but I can tell you that it has fueled me and my approach and my staff, which I hope translates to our players also.”

On stopping two QBs:

“We’ve prepared for both. They play both guys in every game pretty much, and we’ll be ready for both. It is hard to stop those guys. The coaches do a great job preparing them, they have great skill guys and both quarterbacks play well.”

DB Mike Hilton:

On motivation of the Peach Bowl loss:

“It was something we kept in our minds throughout the whole summer and through the season. It wasn’t the way we wanted to go out. Throughout this whole week we have been preparing a lot better and we’re ready.”

On preparing for the bowl game:

“Everybody’s more focused. Last year everybody was a little looser and having fun. We just got down to New Orleans, so now we’re more focused and ready to put on.”

On being in New Orleans:

“We’re going to have our off time, but we have to spend it doing the right thing. We have to focus on winning the game and practicing, that’s what all of our energy and effort really has to go to.”

On demonstrating Ole Miss is a program here to stay: 

“Oh yes it is, just seeing where we came from and where we’re at now. We still got a lot of things to work on. We’re coming up on the uprise. We’ve still got the guys who can take this program to a whole new level and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

On playing husky or corner:

“I’m probably going to go back and forth, but most of time I’m probably going to be playing husky.”

On the importance of the Sugar Bowl for Ole Miss fans:

“It means everything to them. This is like our national championship for the fans. Just basing off last year and how that went, it would be great to get a big win in the Sugar Bowl and get that taste out of our mouths.”

On limiting OSU’s explosive plays: 

“We’ve got guys on the outside that can cover well; we just got to make the plays when the ball comes our way. One thing their receivers do is attack the ball really well. We got to make sure guys on the outside go up and attack the ball. If we don’t come down with it nobody comes down with it.”

TE Evan Engram:

On the team’s commitment to staying focused: 

“I’m really pleased with how we’ve handled the outlook of this bowl, what our goal is to do here. Last year, we were focused and we were ready to play. But last year was kind of an eyes wide kind of thing and we weren’t really locked in like we should be. This year, we’re down here to win this thing. We’re going to have fun with the team events. We got great senior leadership, and we’re all on the same page with what we’re here to do. There’s not going to be a minute that goes by that we’re not thinking about doing everything we need to do to win this bowl game.”

On what’s changed from last season’s preparation:

“Our energy. I feel like last week was one of our best weeks of practice all season. Coach Freeze set the tone at our first team meeting once bowl practice started; he set the tone of what we were going to do. From experience last year, we knew messing around and not taking preparation seriously could end up pretty bad for us. We’re on the same page. We want to be Sugar Bowl champs. We got rings last year for that game; I never really wear it just because of the outcome of that game. We want to be able to put Sugar Bowl champs on our rings this year. We’ve bought in to doing whatever it takes to do that.”

On the importance of winning the Sugar Bowl:

“Before we got put in this bowl, I never really knew. As soon as we did, all the fans were tweeting and reading a lot of stuff about history with Archie Manning leading the team to win here. It’s very deep in our tradition and this university’s tradition. It’s resonated amongst our team just how we saw the response from our fan base and how excited they are to get down to New Orleans, and how well our fans travel wherever we go. Definitely, having their support and their excitement for this game for us has definitely put some fire under our butts to make sure we do what we got to do to win.”

On Archie Manning speaking to the team: 

“Not yet, but I’m pretty sure he probably will. I think that would be a good thing for some of our young guys and even for our senior leadership to kind of get his word. He’s really legendary, a lot of respect for him to hear his side of the story and what he had to do to get it done, I think that would really help our team.”

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