Freeze looks for answers following loss to Memphis
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has been on the winning side in games when his team was the underdog, and he has also been on the losing side when his team was the favorite going in.
Saturday afternoon, Freeze sat somberly at the post-game press conference, looking for answers for the 13th-ranked Rebels’ collapse in their 37-24 loss to Memphis inside Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
However, Freeze didn’t want to blame it on the injuries the team has suffered this season or make excuses for his team’s effort. He felt his team had the right game plan going into a nationally-televised game that featured two high-profile offenses. He felt the team was mentally ready for the battle to get to win number six.
“There’s something missing for sure and that’s my responsibility,” Freeze said of his team’s mental focus.
I thought we had a really good week of preparation and again, not to take anything away from Memphis. They’re a good football team and I don’t want anything to sound like I’m not saying that, but we’re obviously not locked in totally.
Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze
Instead of Ole Miss (5-2, 2-1 SEC) taking care of business and staking claim as a potential college football playoff team, it seemed to fall apart after Chad Kelly connected with Damore’ea Stringfellow in the back of the end zone for the 23-yard touchdown.
That score put the Rebels up 14-0 early in the first quarter.
Then all the momentum for Ole Miss shifted to the blue crew once center Robert Conyers (knee) and defensive end Robert Nkemdiche (concussion) went out of the game with significant injuries. The Tigers (6-0, 2-0 AAC) went onto score 31 straight points and didn’t look back.
Third down woes continue
A disappointed Coach Freeze searched for answers at the post game presser.
“I was very disappointed in how we played and that starts with me,” said Freeze, who’s 4-11 at the University of Mississippi when the team trails at halftime. Ole Miss was down 24-14 at halftime to Memphis.
“I have to take responsibility for us,” Freeze continued. “We were as bad as you could get on 3rd down getting off the field, and at times, converting those 3rd downs.”
On the Rebels’ third drive of the game, they were pinned back at their own 36 on a 3rd-and-20 after a false start call and a Genard Avery sack on Kelly for a loss of five yards. Kelly was almost sacked again on the following play, but was able to zing it to offensive lineman Ben Still for a loss of two yards. Ole Miss couldn’t power itself through the Tigers’ front seven when needed to and was forced, at times, into a punt or turnover.
The Rebels were 4 of 13 on third downs and collected eight penalties for 90 yards, continuing their third down struggles. In the win over Vandy at home back on Oct. 3, Ole Miss was 3 for 13. In its loss in The Swamp to Florida, Ole Miss was 5 for 14.
Freeze had a hard time describing the Rebels’ performance.
“I wish I had all the adjectives,” Freeze said. “It was bad as I’ve ever seen.” He will have but a week to get his team back to where it was when it defeated Alabama, 43-37, on the road in week three on the season, because Texas A&M will be coming to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium looking for revenge from last season’s 35-20 loss in College Station, TX.
The road ahead
After the Aggies, Ole Miss will play two more SEC games (at Auburn, vs. Arkansas) before a bye week on Nov. 14. The road doesn’t get any easier for a Rebels team that had SEC title and national championship hopes in mind prior to the season kicking off.
“I don’t know. Injuries hurt, obviously, but they’re not the reason we didn’t play well today,” Freeze said when asked about the team’s play since its win over the Crimson Tide. “We’ve got to coach them better and we’ve got to have leadership in the locker room. We’ve got to do something to get off the field and convert on 3rd downs.”
Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics