Friday, October 11, 2013
Ole Miss looking for energy against Aggies
By Edward Aschoff
OXFORD, Miss. -- You'll have to forgive Hugh Freeze if he strayed from healthy eating this week. It's been a long couple of weeks for Ole Miss' head coach.
That explains the scene of him standing outside his office Wednesday morning, clutching a plate with a half-eaten slice of pepperoni pizza in his left hand and a Coke Zero in his right. He then juggles nibbling and sipping as he makes it to his desk, where a plate of spaghetti is waiting for him, completing an unorthodox late breakfast.
"It's never too early around here," he says with a laugh.
Freeze needs all the energy he can get. He has seen recent road trips end at three and four in the morning and has stressed over an unsettling off-field incident that has thrust the entire football program into an embarrassing light.
Hugh Freeze has had a full plate of late, and it doesn't get easier with Texas A&M coming to town.
The last five days have provided Freeze with a temporary escape from the last two weeks, but Saturday brings a new challenge when Johnny Manziel and his high-flying Texas A&M offense visit the Grove.
For the first time in more than a month, the Rebels will play at home, ending three weeks of travel that has physically and mentally drained players and coaches. Now, they have to be energized for Johnny Football and an offense registering 586.4 yards and 49.2 points per game.
It doesn't help that Manziel has become that much more dangerous with improved passing skills (297.8 yards per game and 14 touchdowns). He's sitting in the pocket longer, looking for second options and reading defenses before running.
"He's just one of those players that you're not going to stop," safety Cody Prewitt said. "He makes plays consistently, no matter the situation. The best we're going to do is try to contain him.
"He's going to find a way to make a play, no matter what."
The Rebels' defense has played well to this point, giving up just 361.4 yards per game, and A&M's defense is currently the worst in the SEC, but can Ole Miss keep pace with the Aggies?
"I don't know if you can," Freeze said with a laugh. "Where we are right now with our program, I'm not sure. We're going to certainly give it our best effort.
"It's about as difficult as it gets."
Defensively, it's all about trying to contain Manziel. Easier said than done, but that's where discipline comes into play. Defensive backs have to stick to their receivers, and the front seven can't over pursue. Then, you just hope.
On offense, Freeze wants to reestablish the run. During the first three wins, Ole Miss averaged 250 rushing yards and had 10 touchdowns on the ground. In the Rebels' two losses to Alabama and Auburn, they've averaged 85, gaining just 46 their shutout loss to Alabama.
Freeze said his team was spoiled by early defensive schemes. During the first three games, teams usually played with a two-high shell over receiver Donte Moncrief's side to take away the deep ball, leaving the middle of the field open for the Rebels to run.
Alabama took its chances inside with the two-high and out-muscled Ole Miss' offense, while Auburn played the run game straight up, stacking the box. In the last two games, Jeff Scott was held to 94 total rushing yards.
Against the Aggies, who are giving up an SEC-high 214.8 rushing yards a game, Freeze wants his running game to chew some clock to keep the ball away from Manziel.
"We go fast, but going fast and throwing it is not going smart fast against this team," Freeze said. "But we're gonna have to throw it some too. We're not built to just line up and pound it like Alabama and Arkansas did."
The back-to-back losses have some Ole Miss believers inching closer to the ledge, but Freeze says he's fine. His 3-2 record is the least of his worries. He understands that fans will point to the scoreboard, but with just one full recruiting class on campus in his second season, Freeze says this program is far from clinging to results each week.
"Man, I don't think you're ever going to be able to build a consistent program if you're going to be up and down with what people define as your expectations," he said. "That stuff does not bother me at all. Does it bother me to lose? Of course it does. It bothers me to look at plays that we screwed up that could have had an impact on the game; you better believe it does.
"After you've had four recruiting classes, then the results do matter to you. It's way too early for us to start and try to define somebody by one or two games, or even four games, or even the whole season."