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Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze’s Weekly Press Conference: Florida State game

Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze’s Weekly Press Conference: Florida State game

Game week is finally here and Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media Monday in his first weekly press conference of the season. Here are the highlights of today’s presser:

Coach Freeze’s opening statement

“It is finally game week. We have a tremendous task. It is a difficult task, but we relish this opportunity. It gives our football team a chance to play on a national stage against one of the top teams in America. That’s the kind of games we want to be in and we have an opportunity to expand our brand at Ole Miss and hopefully go and compete at a high level on that given night. Should be very exciting, should have all the eyes of the nation upon us and we get to represent our great university and our great conference. One of these power five matchups against, again, one of the top teams in our country this year. They are super talented, maybe one of the fastest teams I’ve watched defensively. They have a lot of returners on both sides of the football.

Offensively, tailback is a special, special player, (Dalvin) Cook is really, really good, (Travis) Rudolph and (Jesus) Wilson and (Kermit) Whitfield are all returners that caught, I think, over 50 balls each. They’ve got balance and good players all around. The offensive line returns, quarterback (Deondre Francois) they’ve got a very talented kid that’s going to start the game; haven’t seen him in game situation, but I was aware of who he was when recruiting and know that he is really, really talented.

Defensively, maybe one of the better safeties I’ve ever seen, (Derwin) James, he’s really, really good. Both physical and (DeMarcus) Walker and 91 (Derrick Nnadi) at D-tackle are as good as any guy we’ve see in this league. I think from top to bottom it is one of the better teams we’ve ever played in my tenure here. It’s going to be a great challenge, but also a great opportunity.”

On Fadol Brown’s injury

“(He) says it’s feeling better, but today is a day off, so we won’t know until tomorrows practice really what that means. Sometimes it is easy that it feels better when you are walking around, but we will see how it goes tomorrow in practice. He was very optimistic.”

Coach Freeze on the adversity surrounding the program

“I didn’t know we had adversity…I have said this a hundred times, our players are the priority. They have zero to do with whatever the noise is. They should be the focus, and they should be the priority and that is what motivates me. All of the talk, or whatever, is about a kid or kids that don’t play here anymore and these young men chose to come to this university to continue to build a program and when I look at them I don’t think about the noise. I think about what I owe them to get them ready to play.”

On if he feels prepared to play Florida State based on the fact that Ole Miss plays in the SEC

“I try to tell myself that, you know….I would probably feel maybe a little different if it wasn’t the opening game, where there are so many unknowns. We are replacing a lot of players and you’re not quite sure how your kids are going to perform in those environments against this talented of a team.

There’s no doubt I think that we have a football team that’s capable of competing against anyone in the nation this year. I am always going to be confident in that, but there are a lot of unknowns going into week one when you are playing who most have picked to be in the college football playoffs this year and I see why when I see their tapes. This conference does prepare you, we have been in some good games, some good battles. We will be ready. Our kids won’t run away from it, they are going to show up and play.”

On the unknown of Florida State’s quarterback

“You could go back and look at different scenarios where there have been quarterbacks that came out of high school. There is one in particular a couple years ago, that I thought ‘man this guy is going to be phenomenal’, and he got on that stage at a school in this conference and he didn’t do real well. You have on the other hand, a Johnny Manziel who comes out of nowhere; nobody’s talked about him, and unbelievable from day one. If I want to look at it and say it is advantageous that he hasn’t played in this type of game before, I could say that. They could probably say, ‘oh he is talented enough to handle it’, you know, and that night will tell, but I don’t know until we play the game which one is going to carry more weight. Is it that he doesn’t have the experience or is it that he’s just that talented that he gets it done?”

On the depth of the defensive line with Fadol’s injury

“We have got other good players that have taken a ton of reps. I don’t know that being without Fadol (Brown) will make a huge difference on whether or not we stop number four (Dalvin Cook). He is going to get his share, he is just that talented, I think.

We have got to be extremely disciplined with fitting our gaps and staying in those gaps because he will entice you. They give him the ball so deep in their zone games, he will entice you to another gap and then he will make you pay by hitting the one you just vacated. We have got to be really disciplined whoever is in there, whether it is Fadol (Brown), at linebackers, at safeties, all of our fits have to be really, really good every single play because he will find the gap.”

On Rebels’ tackling

“Well, we are through on the tackling. It is time to get our teams healthy and fresh and really to get to the game. I don’t know that I am ever totally happy with the way we have tackled, but we are working individual tackle drills every day, but it is still not the same; you can’t simulate tackling people like we are going to tackle against them. Hopefully as we get into the flow of the game it is not just one guy running to the ball, I hope. Hopefully we will gang tackle pretty well.”

On Derwin James

“There’s not many guys like him. He is special talent. I wish there was a lot of them, we would like to have a couple ourselves. To have that size and speed is pretty special. He is arguably one of the best, if not the best in the nation. I think everyone would love to go recruit those, there’s just not many of those out there.”

On Tony Conner’s return this season 

“Well, having him back changes us. There is no doubt. It took us three games last year to figure out how to play without him and C.J. (Hampton), Issac (Gross). He is a leader, he understands the game, he is physical, he’s just a football player so I think him at 90 percent makes us a lot better. We will probably try to limit the number of snaps he tackles in certain situations but no doubt he makes us better being back.”

On John Youngblood filling in for Fadol Brown

“(John) Youngblood is going to do everything right. Victor Evans is looking really good behind him also. I think we will be fine there. Obviously you want a kid like Fadol (Brown) to be able to play and hopefully he can, but we have confidence in those other two. Also in G-Mac (Garrald McDowell) and Shawn Curtis, we’ve got some good players there. Fadol (Brown) is a senior; you want him out there if you can.”

On what freshmen he foresees playing against Florida State

“Game one probably, D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown, Eric Swinney, I don’t know if you are considering him in that group, Greg Little, Myles Hartsfield, Jaylon Jones, Jalen Julius, Benito Jones, Montrell Custis.”

On if TE Octavious Cooley will play against Florida State

“Don’t know about that one yet. He’s physically gifted enough to do it, just want to make sure we are smart with these young kids. Hunter Thurley is back so that gives us you know Hunter and Taz (Zettergren) and Ty Quick along with Evan Engram, so you just want to be smart.”

On if the Florida State game is a big opportunity for Chad Kelly

“Oh, absolutely, I think every game is a great opportunity for him and for our team. I am sure he looks at it that way. He is a competitive dude and he wants to play in these types of games so I am sure he sees it that way. I don’t think he sees, nor I think of it as, ‘I’ve got to get more attention nationally’, I think your play will determine that as the season goes on.”

On Rod Taylor at left tackle 

“Yeah, we are comfortable. He is an athletic guy, wish he was a little longer, but he and Greg (Little) will split reps there. He also can play inside. Jeremy (Liggins) will be back with us soon, but we have been comfortable with Rod (Taylor) doing it all fall camp and I think he has done a nice job.”

On if he feels any extra pressure to win and get to Atlanta this year with Chad Kelly being a senior

“No, I don’t put any pressure on myself. We had a chance the last two years to get there. Here is what we have started talking about around here, we don’t talk about goals, to be at Atlanta or the SEC West, we talk about commitments you will make that happen on a daily basis that will enable us to get to whatever the goals are. So we don’t talk a lot about the goals, we talk about the commitments. Everybody has made certain ones to each other and I think, you know, if the ball bounces our way, it didn’t last year in a couple games. I think, maybe this year is the one where it does bounce our way and we get there. Pressure, is just, I think, what you make of it. I like being in the pressure. If you are not in the frame, I don’t know, it is hard to enjoy the life for me, I enjoy it.”

On the offensive line coming together during fall camp

“I mean some of these questions, I am not trying to answer them the same way, but you know, it could be fool’s gold right now. I feel like they have, but until we get out there and have to block another team and we’re not use to what they’re doing and they’re not use to what we are doing is kind of hard to give an accurate assessment of it. I do feel like I love the work that that groups put in. I like what I see on tape, but give me a couple weeks and we will know if it is fool’s gold or not.”

On which players are showing leadership

“D.J. Jones, Issac Gross, Chad (Kelly), Akeem Judd, Robert Conyers, Quincy Adeboyejo, I think those would be the nucleus of the leadership of our team.”

On his relationship with Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher and what he has done with his team

“I don’t have a relationship with him. I mean I know who he is, obviously. He is cordial and I am cordial when we see each other, but we really have no relationship. I think he has done a heck of job. His record speaks for himself in what he has done. The type of kids he recruits every year and the passion behind that program and the proof on the field, you can’t argue with that.”

On how last week ended

“I think we had a good week. We had a nice practice last night in our stadium for the first time. It’s a beautiful place that our administration has worked hard on getting us. I thought the energy was good, I thought our execution was good, didn’t tackle to the ground, so again that is a bit of an unknown, but I was real pleased with the way last week ended.”

On how he sees the Ole Miss receivers matching up against Florida States corners

“They have great players there too, but I love our receivers. I like them any week we play against anybody; I think we have a chance on any play to win a one-on-one. That doesn’t mean you always get it done, but I am always going to feel confident about that group.”

On if the mindset of the team will change playing Deondre Francois

“It has no effect whatsoever; we are going to go call our game plan like we’ve planned it. There will have to be some adjustments, all teams probably make a few tweaks here and there and find out in fall camp what their kids are really gifted of doing. We will have to figure that out, but no he won’t have any effect on how we will call the game.”

On Chad Kelly’s growth from last year to this year

“You know, he finished last season so strong those last seven or eight games, I just hope he can continue performing at that same level that he did. I see no reason in fall camp to think he wouldn’t. He is hungry, he is determined, he is studying hard, preparing himself so I hope I see the same one that ended the last seven games and I believe that will happen.”

On whom Dalvin Cook reminds him of in the SEC

“I am trying to think of one. We didn’t play Georgia last year, but he is probably similar to their guy. He has a lower center of gravity. Makes you miss in space a bit more than the ones you have mentioned it seems to me.”

On being on national television in the only game Monday

“It is tremendous opportunity. We love knowing that all eyes of the nation will be on us. It is a chance to take another step in expanding the brand of Ole Miss and represent our great conference and university.”

On what winning against Florida State would say about the program

“I thought the way we finished last year spoke volumes about where we were in year four, to be able to go to two straight New Year’s Six bowl games and to play the way we did down the stretch I thought said a lot about the character of our kids and coaches. To start off the year with a win at Florida State, in Orlando I guess would just continue the confidence that we have and validation that we are on the right track. Like I have always said, you don’t make too much of one win or too much of one loss, it is a long season and when you play these caliber of games, anyone can win, that means somebody’s going to lose. I am sure you guys have looked at the schedules of games this Friday, and I mean that is exciting to college football fans, but what was it about eight really good matchups? There’s going to be eight losers and there’s going to be eight winners. In all cases we have a lot to play for regardless if you win or lose you have to move past that one and get ready for the next one.”

On the Ole Miss return game

“I like Carlos (Davis) and I like Kailo (Moore) on kickoffs and Van Jefferson and Carlos (Davis) at punt returners. I like both of them. You don’t get many punt returns, nor do you get many kickoffs against them, but they do have a new kicker so it is kind of unknown there. The punt, if they keep doing their same system and it is the same thing we do, it is very difficult to return if it has any hang time because of the new spread punt stuff. The main concern there is after a punt we have possession of the ball. Kickoff return, we would love to have the opportunity to return a few, we will see there and that will tell us we have worked hard at that unit. We will see after the game how that work plays out.”

On kicker Gary Wunderlich

“I think he’s got the leg, he’s got the accuracy. He had a couple days this week he didn’t perform up to his standards, but last night he kicked it really well in the stadium and I expect him to be one of the better ones in our conference.”

On if he likes playing such a difficult team for the first game of the season

“Yeah, I think with the September we have, we don’t need to waste much time jumping into battles. We are going to have some really tough challenges in that month. You hope you stay healthy and you hope you learn from the last game, win or lose, and are able to improve through the course of this slate of game. One play doesn’t make it, you are going to have to play, you know, the full four quarters to beat these teams we’ve got scheduled in September and this one will help us prepare towards that for sure.”

On if there is a sense of relief to put the noise behind him and start the season

“Yeah, we are just ready to put the ball down and play.”

About The Author

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn's love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship--and continued as she watched Katie receive three degrees from Ole Miss, culminating with her Pharm D. in 2012. Evelyn, a member of the FWAA, USBWA and the NCBWA, has covered Rebel sports for numerous outlets. In addition to working for The Rebel Walk, Evelyn is a sports writer for a newspaper in Texas.

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