Hugh Freeze/Ole Miss Athletics

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze recapped the Rebels' 38-17 loss to Vanderbilt and previewed Saturday’s Egg Bowl at his weekly presser

Full transcript of Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze's weekly press conference previewing Saturday's Egg Bowl matchup against Mississippi State.

Opening Statement…
“It’s Egg Bowl week. That should be enough motivation for our players and coaches to prepare accordingly. It’s a game that means an extraordinary amount to this university, to our fan base and to theirs. It’s going to be a great challenge. We’ve had obviously a lot of adversity throughout the course of this year. To prepare to try to get a sixth win and gain bowl eligibility against your in-state rival, these games are always quite interesting, regardless of records. They’re always highly competitive and I know this one will be no different. We have a great challenge in trying to stop their offense. It’s a good scheme, and their quarterback (sophomore Nick Fitzgerald) is playing at a really high level with skilled receivers. Defensively, they’ve given up yards and points, as have we, and we’ve got to be sure that we’re scoring touchdowns in the red zone when we get those opportunities, because it seems, as you watch them and you watch us, that it could easily be who scores the most touchdowns. I hope that’s not necessarily the case on our part, but when you look at it realistically, the things they do, they have a good scheme. Dan (Mullen) does a good job at that, and their quarterback is making them efficient in the run game. He’s a talented runner and he’s throwing the ball well, particularly last week. It’s going to be a great atmosphere Saturday afternoon here. Our fans will show up and help us defend the Egg Bowl.”

On his message to the team…
“Yesterday, we made sure that the young guys, many of them we’re depending upon to help this week, understand the importance of this game and the importance of how we want our seniors to go out and gain bowl eligibility for those guys. We’re a beat-up football team. John Youngblood spoke yesterday and did a marvelous job, but unfortunately he can’t participate, as Chad Kelly can’t and others. Evan Engram is hurt. Issac Gross is hurt. They’ll be questionable for the game, along with the many others we have. DaMarkus Lodge will be out, as will D’Vaughn Pennamon. Offensive line wise, Sean Rawlings and Robert Conyers will try their best to get ready to go. They have to understand the magnitude of this game. Our young kids, for the value of the seniors and our program getting the extra practices and getting to a bowl game, it’s vital that they understand that. We’ve got to find out who the warriors are for this week, and that’s who you’ve got to play and get ready to go.”

On freshman quarterback Shea Patterson…
“He’s probably about where you would expect any freshman who came out this early in the season to be. He had a great game at Texas A&M by many people’s standards. But we watched the film and you see there are still many things he doesn’t quite understand. The Vanderbilt game, there was some of that also. But he also had about 10 drops. He missed a couple of passes too, he had Quincy Adeboyejo on a touchdown and Evan (Engram) on a touchdown and he missed those. So it’s a combination. But he definitely had quite a few drops where if he did make those throws, we might be sitting here feeling differently. There would still be stuff on film that he’s got to get an understanding of. It’s great that we have some extra time this week with classes not in session that he can get some extra film. We can make sure he feels great about what we’re trying to do this Saturday. There were a lot of good things he did, but still a ways to go.”

On the mindset of the young players…
“It’s hard to tell just from a Sunday meeting, because I do most of the talking. It’s our job to get them ready for this game, regardless of if we had one win, or five wins or 10 wins. We know this game is going to be a battle. It always is. For us to have this to gain bowl eligibility, I’m certain that’s something they want to keep us from, and it’s something we desperately want to achieve. They have to understand. We have to find the kids who understand it and are willing to put the premium on preparation for this game, and those are the ones we’ve got to play.”

On Patterson’s ability to scramble…
“More reps would be helpful. He definitely got out of the pocket at times the other night where he didn’t have to. He was anxious. I think the answer to that is just more reps. That’s why we need more practices in the bowl time and the spring to get him ready for next season. We’ll work on it some this week, but the best teacher is experience for that. He’ll see it on film. He already has, and we’ll learn from it.”

On the offensive line play vs. Vanderbilt…
“I believe there was one sack, maybe two. Shea (Patterson) got out of the pocket early some times where I thought they had good protection. We got away from running the ball a little bit. They changed some things after we hurt them on the first two drives running the ball. They found some answers, and we didn’t respond really well to handling the different fronts they went to. It was an average performance for us offensive-line wise.”

On the drops vs. Vanderbilt…
“They would like to blame the cold weather. Damore’ea Stringfellow, he got his hand stepped on at practice last week. It was giving him problems. He was very honest that, ‘Coach, I’ll play for you, but I’m struggling to catch the balls I normally can catch.’ Then Lodge had the foot injury, so he was out. It has to be a lack of concentration or something. We were not normal. It certainly affected the outcome of the game.”

On preparing for Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald…
“We have to win first downs. They’re like a lot of us, when they get into their third-down packages with a quarterback like that, it’s very difficult to plan for and to stop and have success. We have to win first down against a guy like him. I think that’s a critical stat to follow in this game, being able to win that down and get them into third-and-long. If you’re always worried about, if it’s either run or pass, it can be difficult."

On Jimmie Johnson winning his seventh NASCAR championship…
“I did watch it late last night when I got home. I was fired up to see the ending. It was very competitive. I think he’s got to be, with the talent in the field these days, it’d be hard to argue that he isn’t close to the best of all time. I didn’t get to follow it as closely in the other eras. But I think his whole crew and his organization is pretty special.”

On the health of Evan Engram…
“If any way possible Evan will go. I know that about him. He’s going to try his best to get prepared to go.”

On preparing to play the first half without DeMarquis Gates…
“You’ve got to prepare multiple guys. You can’t just have one guy. We’ll try to find the best fit against what they do. But you have to have two-deep ready to go.”

On the health of A.J. Brown…
“He seemed pretty good yesterday; sore, but I think he’ll be fine.”

On if having Jason Pellerin will help in preparation for Fitzgerald…
“We’ll do a little more self-service this week, where our offense does the scouting. The scouts go home Wednesday, so Thursday will be a good day for sure. And Jason is similar in size, so I think that will be helpful.”

On the health of Tony Bridges…
“I think (he’ll play this weekend). He’s day-to-day, but he seemed to be much better yesterday than he was the previous week.”

On the legacy of the senior class…
“By the people who are very close to the program and those of us who have worked with them, there’s no doubt in our mind that they have rejuvenated and made Ole Miss football relevant again. That will be the memory. Unfortunately, it’s a ‘What have you done for me lately society,’ so some will choose to put emphasis on the disappointing season that many view us as having, including myself. But the totality of what they have done here, you can’t argue. Two New Year’s Six bowl games, four straight bowl games, hopefully making it five after Saturday, that’s what they should be remembered for.”

On experience gained through injuries…
“Experience is the best teacher. There’s a lot to learn from this season from a coaching standpoint and from our players. I think I saw a stat where we’re playing the second-most freshmen in the nation right now this year. We’re going to count on them next year for sure. So hopefully this is going to be a good experience of reps in competitive situations, but also an experience of how to handle negativity and adversity when you’re not playing really well and learn to change that faster throughout the course of individual games.”

On if the switch from Kelly to Patterson could have contributed to drops…
“We thought about that. Many of the drops were very accurate the other night, or at least in range of where our guys normally make catches. The velocity might be a little bit different, but I don’t know if that has a lot to do with it. You still focus on making the catch on the tip of the ball and everything you’ve done in repetitions over and over again on the jugs machine. I don’t know if it was the colder weather, and everything feels a little different. It felt different to Shea (Patterson) throwing; he was struggling to keep his hands warm. But, (Vanderbilt) caught some tough catches on their, side, so you can’t use that. You’ve got to focus on doing your job. Hopefully we’ll have a beautiful Saturday afternoon here and we’ll go back to being who we’ve been most of the year.”

On how rewarding it would be to make a bowl game this year…
“Very rewarding to me. I’ve been very open about that, that I think at Ole Miss, when you’re consistently going to bowls year in and year out, having the extra practices, is helpful in building a program that is consistent and competitive in the Southeastern Conference. It’s very difficult to win all of these games when the margin of error is so small. But when you continually get the opportunities to do that and get extra reps and extra practices and get experience in bowl games, it’s helpful in recruiting, it’s helpful in developing the young kids. It’s very important.”


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