Nov. 19, 2012
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media Monday and discussed the Rebels' upcoming Egg Bowl matchup with No. 24 Mississippi State.
"We are coming off of another disappointing loss. I don't know that in my years of coaching high school, NAIA or Division One football if I've ever had three more difficult ones in one year. I'm extremely proud of our kids and coaches and the way that they bounce back from those. They continued to compete at a high level last Saturday night against one of the nation's best in their place. It was possibly the most fun, besides the outcome, that I've had in a game in a long time. Our staff enjoyed it, and our kids had a lot of fun together in competing. We can look at a lot of different plays that could have maybe swung a different way. That's the case anytime you lose a close one. I give credit to Coach (Les) Miles and his game plan and for finding a way to win it. We kept getting up and coming back after them and they didn't fold. They won that one. We have to put it behind us like we have for a few others this year that were difficult losses. We have to get ready for a huge game Saturday night at home."
"We're hopeful that everybody that's not out with a season-ending (injury) will be able to participate. It's early in the week so it's really hard to say either way. There's no one that's definitely out that traveled last week. We will hopefully get Wesley (Pendleton) back. That will give us some added depth in the secondary. I'm hopeful on Charles (Sawyer) and Jamal (Mosley), that they'll be ready to go. C.J. (Johnson) will be fine. Not playing him (much) the other night gave him a couple of days to add to the recovery process. He felt good this morning."
On the benefit of not having class this week:
"Most of that depends on the kid. Hopefully he's wise with the time that he has. We're not going to grind them with a lot of extra practice or reps. We will continue to prepare the same way we prepare every week. There is a lot of time that they can spend time in the treatment room. They'll have some time to rest if they use it properly. Hopefully we're maturing to where they use it wisely. It certainly could be beneficial to us."
On changing the routine this week and not allowing players to talk to the media:
"There's so much little ya-ya that can get started with young kids that say something off of the cuff. That's not what we're about. I just want to protect our kids from being put in a position where something could be said or written that would represent us in a different way headed into this big game, which we all know means so much to so many people. We'll come up with a list of guys that can speak on our behalf. Coaches will continue to be available after practice like normal."
On the MSU rivalry:
"I actually have family members that are on the other side. I have great respect for some coaches down there, also. I won't get into the name calling. We have great respect for them. We want to beat them as bad as they want to beat us. I understand the impact it has on the program, our fans and the people of this state. We're going to go about it the right way and try to beat them that badly on Saturday."
On Freeze's emotions going into his first Egg Bowl as a head coach:
"I'm very excited. I can't wait for Saturday. I try not to be anxious. I don't think that's a good emotion to have for an entire week. It's very difficult to fight it. You just want to get the preparation done and feel like you give your kids a solid plan that gives them a chance to compete with a very good, talented football team. That's what occupies my mind to keep me from being overly anxious. There's a lot riding on this game for us. Obviously the Egg Bowl is enough, but I sure would like to send these seniors out going to play in a postseason game and our fans to get to experience that. They're a team that deserves to do that in my eyes. I know I'm biased as can be. They've been through their share of hardship. Certainly with a break here or there this year, they easily could be in a pretty good bowl game. My emotions, I'll try to keep them in check. I've got people in my life that will help me with that and remind me daily about the journey we're on. There's no hiding that I'm very excited about this game."
On the team's mentality after coming off of a third tough loss:
"All I have to reflect upon in that regard is how we've handled the others. I've been pleased with the way our coaches and players have bounced back from those. I have no reason to doubt that they would in this case. As far as the emotions going into this game go, all of that lasts probably a quarter. Maybe not even that. Then it's going to come down to who can execute the plan best, who takes care of the ball and who makes the fewest mistakes. We'll bounce back and they'll be ready for it. We've been here before, gone through a difficult loss and got ready to play the next week. I have no doubt that they will this week also."
On Bo Wallace's status:
"He's been about the same the last three Sundays. He's definitely not at 100 percent. He wasn't Saturday and you can tell on some of his throws. He's proven to be very resilient. He's a tough kid. He'll get ready to go the best he can on Saturday. I don't think he was any worse, but I don't think he was any better (on Sunday)."
On whether or not Bo Wallace's shoulder issue stems from the Tulane game:
"I don't think he's ever gotten totally well from that game. He probably got a little better and took another hit that did the same thing to him. It never got totally well from that game."
On the possibility of MSU taking this game lightly:
"I would think not. Not with the way that their coaching staff has stressed the emphasis of this game since they've been there. I don't think they'll lessen that one bit in their preparation and what they do to get their kids prepared for this game. I think they've done a good job of stressing the emphasis of this game. I don't see that changing."
On the most difficult challenge and the most pleasant surprise of the season:
"It's the same answer. The most pleasant surprise and the most difficult is that we're sitting here with five wins and haven't gotten that sixth one. I'm definitely surprised that that is the case we're in. I'm also disappointed that we didn't find a way to win one of those close ones. Without a doubt, that's the answer to both. It's both disappointing and very rewarding."
On being able to run the ball against LSU:
"Matt (Luke) and staff had a good plan against them. We think we have one every week. The coaches on the other side are game planning us too, and you're never quite sure what that's going to be. Against LSU we were fortunate to pop a big one early. That gives you some confidence. We didn't run it extremely well in the second half. They're very talented and play a lot of kids on defense. It gave us some problems as we kind of wore down. You see a common thread in those last few games of us not being quite the same in the fourth quarter that we may have been early on, particularly defensively. We're playing kids 70 or 80 snaps instead of 40 or 50. We're playing special teams for a good part of them. We were effective enough running it that we were two-dimensional against LSU. That's our goal in any game, to make sure that they have to defend both. If you get into a position where they don't feel like they have to, it's a tough climb."
On biggest challenges with MSU:
"They have a very physical offensive line that allows them to be two-dimensional. They're as balanced as any team we've played. It makes them very difficult to defend. That's the first thing that jumps out at me. Second thing, his kids play with great emotion, great passion and they play hard. It won't be a situation where we can just walk out there and because we play hard we're going to win. We're going to have to execute and play hard also. Defensively, their secondary jumps out at you as a definite strength of their team. They have the upperclassmen there that know what they're doing and can win one-on-ones. Then you look at their quarterback, he will stand in there and take a hit. He'll make all of the throws. He has a strong arm. He understands the timing of throws and where his receivers are going to be. You just don't see him turning the ball over or taking a lot of negative plays. He'll stand in there and do his job. He's a tough kid. You look at those teams that have good team speed, play hard, have a good quarterback, solid defense and can run the football too. It's a tough team to defend."
On handling this rivalry game:
"Obviously throughout the media circuit I've had to talk about it at a lot of places. You go to all of our Rebel Club meetings and they want to talk about this game. I've had to talk about it. As far as addressing it with our team, it was yesterday after the LSU game. We'll talk about it a lot between now and then."
On what Freeze will remember about his first team here:
"The effort, attitude and passion they played with. We'll try to let go of the disappointment of the close losses. That will take some time for me. We'll use that certainly in recruiting because we think with a good recruiting class some of those close losses can become wins. Certainly the thing that will overshadow all of that will be coaching my first group here at The University of Mississippi. I was really taken aback by the effort and passion they gave every single week, amid some disappointing things. That was the first goal I said. The only goal I've talked about this year: to put a product on the field for this university that played with great pride and passion. Our kids have done that."
On Freeze's thoughts of the SEC and the possibility of an SEC team playing for the title:
"I'm pro-SEC. The teams at the top of our league will handle themselves very, very well in whatever matchup they get in the national championship game. They're very deserving. It's the toughest grind of any conference that a team can go through from top to bottom. Hopefully we get to where we're more relevant in those discussions. We're two yards and a punt return from eight wins and being in the hunt for some other bowl games that others have been traditionally playing in that we want to get back to. The SEC is the best football in the country. I'm sure everybody is partial to their conference. We're the only ones who have won six straight national championship games. I would certainly like to see us have a chance to be represented in that seventh one."
On how the players should handle their emotions on Saturday:
"I want them to be very emotional, very passionate and understand what this game means for so many people. Hopefully they can channel that emotion into playing with great passion again for our university. It doesn't have to be the extracurricular stuff that some may associate with being hyped. I hope that it doesn't come to that point. I want them to be very emotional for this game."
On Dan Mullen's comment about he would never lose to Ole Miss:
"Did he say that? We will remind our kids every day this week of the importance of this game. If that happens to be part of that motivation, I'll tell our video guys they did a good job."
On special teams:
"There's a couple of things going on there. Our kickoff cover team has been excellent. Our punt coverage team has been up and down. They've been excellent for three straight weeks and we were very good every punt the other night except for that one. That was a weird deal. We happened to hit our best punt of the year, probably. They were in an all-out rush, didn't even have a return on. They had a very athletic kid. We were trying to rest too many of our starting players on that team and we struggled to cover the punt for that distance and tackle that kid in space. Looking back on it, we sure wish we would have kicked it away from him. I'm more disappointed in the turnovers and the muffed punt that gave them points early on in the game. That punt deal, he made a great run, but we had three shots at getting him on the ground and we missed all three of them. Some of it is a function of our lack of depth. We're going to look closely at that this week. We will make sure we have our best kids. They've just got to suck it up and go for one more game at least and see if we can't correct those things that we're not doing really well."
On possible personnel changes with the punt return unit:
"We're going to look at a couple of different options."
On Jason Jones and how he's been able to stay healthy and productive:
"I'd go back to Paul Jackson and his staff. There are a lot of reasons that we've had more success this year and they're surely one of them. They got our kids more physically fit for this battle that we go into weekly. Jason has done a phenomenal job of representing the No. 38 jersey in the way he handles himself on and off the field and the manner to which he plays with great heart. He's not the most talented kid in the world, but you put on any film that we've played this year and Jason is representing this university and the Chucky Mullins award in a very worthy manner. His leadership has been great."
On Channing Ward's performance against LSU:
"He had his best game of the year. C.J. (Johnson) being out gave him more opportunities to play. He had one blown assignment that hurt us. Other than that he played really well. He matched up with their scheme better than some. Our package was probably not as drastic. When a kid feels good about what he's doing he can play faster. It was a combination of him maturing and what we were asking him to do that night."
On how big the Egg Bowl is from a recruiting standpoint:
"It's always important in recruiting. I have seen it where the team that doesn't win this game can convince players to join them to be the difference makers. It depends on the makeup of the kid, the family and who they grew up pulling for regardless of the outcome of the Egg Bowl the previous year. In this rivalry game, it is important no doubt and will make the difference in some kids' minds. I've also seen it where a few key kids want to come and play early and help change the outcome of the year before. I do think it would certainly help in recruiting kids leaning towards other schools."
On State's staff and how they emphasize this game:
"We will relive some of the great games with them. We have a lot of time to sit in here. Our video staff does a great job of putting together something for me. We talk about not only now, but 20 years from now. Some of those memories that you have of winning these games mean something 20 years from now. We'll talk from our heart about what it's like to be from this state and what this game carries with it. We're going to stress the importance of this game every single day this week."
On the senior class buying in:
"I'm very, very pleased with the progress and foundation toward our journey and process that we're going through here. You have to look at the seniors first. Most of them without exception were the easiest to convince. They more than any others can attest to the disappointing times that they have experienced and know that they don't want this season to go like the others where you're being looked at as getting beat badly in games and somewhat the laughingstock of the conference. They've done a lot to remove that stigma."