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Coming back from Gainesville, Florida to Oxford, Mississippi over the weekend, Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze had time to digest the Rebels’ 38-10 loss to Florida and reflect back on past seasons when the program was in this exact same predicament.
In the fourth game of its 2013-14 season, Ole Miss was shutout by then top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, 25-0, but the Rebels returned the favor the following season, defeating the Crimson Tide 23-17 in Oxford and again this season inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, 43-37.
It doesn’t faze Freeze to see his team in this situation, because he knows they have the ability to climb out of it. At his weekly press conference Monday, Freeze acknowledged his team did not play its best:
Some of that had to do with them; some of that had to do with us not making plays or not coaching them to play well enough. It is a great lesson for us. We owned it when we went to Tuscaloosa and lost, so now we need to own the loss on the road.
Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze
On Saturday night in The Swamp, Freeze witnessed the Ole Miss’ offense turn over the football four times, saw his starting quarterback face intense pressure from a frenzied Gators defense, and watched the secondary struggle with some key coverages.
Still, Freeze has kept a confident mindset because of the caliber of team he’s coaching. Before the game with Vanderbilt and subsequent loss to the Gators, the Rebels played with an appetite for jumping out to a hot start and forcing their opponents’ offense to make mistakes, but Freeze has noticed some of that identity is missing right now.
In its first three games, Ole Miss scored the game’s first touchdown or field goal, but in the last two contests, the Rebels have had to play from behind.
“I really thought after the Alabama game we had a good mindset,” said Freeze, who is 28-16 at Ole Miss. “But we certainly haven’t played the last two weeks with the same drive and passion to be an elite team that I think we have the ability to be. Of course, in this world, when you have a disappointing loss, the burden and negativity that comes toward not only me, but the coaches and the players, I understand that.”
“And you hate to see that for your players, but you can’t run from that. It’s part of the world you live in. Hopefully the leadership of our team can handle that, and we need to circle the wagons, own what we did, own what we didn’t do, and we still have a lot to play for and a long season left,” he added.
Freeze was 100 percent correct when he said his team still has a lot to play for. Ole Miss dropped to No. 14 in the latest AP Top 25 poll, but it is still very much alive in the hunt for reaching its two primary goals: winning the Southeastern Conference and competing for a national title.
The Rebels (4-1, 2-1) have yet to play the rest of their brutal conference schedule that consists of LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Arkansas; however, Ole Miss is currently third in the SEC, trailing only the LSU Tigers and Aggies. With the way the college football season has been going thus far with upsets happening in each conference, the dominoes may fall where the Rebels need them the most.
And Freeze realizes that.
“I heard a couple of my kids mention that we still have a lot to play for, and I’ll stand by that with them, but all we need to be talking about right now is improving ourselves in the red zone, third downs, taking care of the ball and getting turnovers, and that’s the mindset I want our team to have going forward,” said Freeze, who wants his team to focus on the game against New Mexico State this Saturday.
“Certainly in the back of our mind, it is still there. We still have all of the best teams left to play on our schedule. That is helpful, we just don’t talk about it a lot.”
Feature image credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk