Head coach Hugh Freeze discusses Ole Miss' 31-13 win over Southeast Missouri State. He discusses the play of junior quarterback Bo Wallace, the return of sophomore running back I'Tavius Mathers and his personnel decisions. He also assesses his team's depth and looks ahead to next Saturday's game at Texas. Kickoff from Austin is set for 7 p.m. CT and will be televised on the Longhorn Network, as well as affiliates throughout Mississippi and Memphis.
Wallace Looks Back, Looks Ahead To Texas
Junior quarterback Bo Wallace only played four series against Southeast Missouri before seniors Barry Brunetti and Robert Ratliff finished the game, but they all resulted in points. Wallace helped lead the offense three touchdown and a field goal, as the Rebels staked a 24-0 lead early in the first half. In the process, Wallace threw his first two touchdown of the season after rushing for two touchdown in last week's 39-35 win at Vanderbilt.
A 64-yard pass to freshman tight end Evan Engram, his first career touchdown, and a 67-yard pass to junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief highlighted the first half, as the Rebels took a 31-0 lead into halftime, its largest lead since a 31-0 lead against Mississippi State in 2008.
"I thought he started ho-hum," Freeze said of Wallace. "We got explosive there and looked pretty decent on some drive. He made some good decisions and some good throws. I struggled at halftime whether or not to come back with him. I know he gives us the best chance to win. I felt like we needed to get others reps because we are going to need some others before it's over."
But it's one of the throws Wallace didn't make that's going to stay with him from the win against Southeast Missouri.
"I'm not proud of myself. I'm proud that we put up points the whole time. The one that's really going to be with me the whole night is the throw to (senior wide receiver Jordan) Holder I missed because that kid deserves a touchdown, and I missed him on it, so that one will stay with me."
Wallace and the Rebels are 2-0 for the second straight season, but both he and his offensive coordinator Dan Werner think he is further along this year compared to last year, when he completed 13 of 24 passes for 178 yard with a touchdown and three interceptions.
And with the rematch against Texas next week, there's some added motivation for Wallace and Ole Miss after last year's 66-31 loss in Oxford.
"I'm a lot more experienced," Wallace said. "The game is a lot slower, but I still have a lot of work to do. I got a lot of work to do, and I got to get it done this week."
"Light years ahead," Werner said of Wallace this year compared to last year. "Last year at this time, he was still trying to learn the offense and tempo. He has a good feel for what we're doing now. He didn't have the sharpest day today, but he still hasn't thrown a pick."
Engram Continues To Impress
In his college debut last week against Vanderbilt, freshman tight end Evan Engram caught five passes for 61 yards, and tonight against SEMO, he found the end zone for his first career touchdown. He finished with two catches for 70 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown catch.
"Evan is solid," Freeze said of Engram. "He's getting better and starting to understand what we're doing. And we're starting to understand what we can do with him and play to his strengths. He didn't get a lot of snaps tonight, but he had a good night when he was in there."
"When he came here to our camp, we really liked him, but he was a little undersized, so we wanted to see how he would do," Werner said, "He lit up the camp and made play after play. We ended recruiting him hard, got him, then he gained weight. Never did we think he could come in and be the player that he is right now. We felt like down the road in a couple of year, he would get bigger and be ready to go. He's a big-time player."
Bryant Fills In, Secondary Changes
Junior Serderius Bryant got the start at Stinger linebacker in place of injured sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, and he responded with career highs and team highs of 15 tackles, including eight solo tackles, and a tackle for loss.
"His assignments were solid," Freeze said. "Serderius is a good player. Him and Keith Lewis are good players. We need to stay healthy there. I don't think the linebackers had many breakdowns."
The Ole Miss defense also had four new starters in the secondary with junior Senquez Golson and sophomore Mike Hilton at cornerback, sophomore Chief Brown at Rover safety and freshman Tony Conner at Huskie.
"I think there was a bust on their second touchdown when our guys rotated the wrong way," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "I don't think were a lot of busts in the game. It was a fairly simple game plan, and there weren't many mental errors."