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Hugh Freeze wants improvement on 3rd-down defense when Rebels face Georgia

Hugh Freeze wants improvement on 3rd-down defense when Rebels face Georgia

OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss football team has struggled this season on third-down defense, but head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff have worked hard this week to emphasize the importance of cleaning up the mistakes before the Rebels face No. 11 Georgia.

The Landsharks tackle QB Jalen Hurts in Saturday's game against the Tide. (Photo credit: Joey Brent, The Rebel Walk)

The Landsharks tackle QB Jalen Hurts in Saturday’s game against the Tide. (Photo credit: Joey Brent, The Rebel Walk)

In the Rebels’ heartbreaking loss to No. 1 Alabama, the Crimson Tide was 7-of-15 on third-down conversions, with each coming at a pivotal moment in the game. In the season-opening loss to Florida State, No. 21 Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) allowed the Seminoles to convert on 50 percent (9-of-18) of their third-down conversion attempts.

Freeze suggested this week that the inability to get off the field on third down has played a huge role in the Rebels’ slow start. He acknowledged that scrambling quarterbacks, such as Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and FSU’s Deondre Francois, have given the Rebels problems and explained in what areas his team needs to get better.

It’s a combination: coaching, assignment, technique, we just have to keep improving. We’ve played a lot of young kids and they have to grow up and understand the value of each play — over the course of the game — its weight is equal. The value of those plays is of equal amount in the course of the game.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze

Gross won’t accept any excuses

Senior defensive tackle Issac Gross mentioned at Monday’s press conference the defense will have to do a better job of closing the run gaps that were wide open for Hurts, who rushed for 146 yards last Saturday. Junior defensive back A.J. Moore thinks communication has to get better but said he saw some improvements against the Crimson Tide as the Rebels’ defense used more hand movements due to the loudness of the crowd.

Ole Miss’ third-down defense is ranked 104th in the nation, allowing its opponents to convert on 22 of 49 tries.

“As a defense, that’s not what we want to be,” Gross said, making it clear excuses are not acceptable to him.

With people saying the defense is out there too long that can give certain people the right to be like, ‘we’re out there too long.’ It’s an excuse. I’m not going to go out that way. I don’t care how long we’re out there.

Issac Gross

Gross went on to explain exactly what he and the defense must do.

If we have to fight, we have to fight. We have to get in shape and have to get off third down, whether coach has a made a bad call or he made a good call or a guy just didn’t do his job. Somehow, someway, we have to fix it and get off the field on third down.

Issac Gross

Slowing down Georgia’s Nick Chubb

Both Gross and Moore realize things will have to get better if they want to have success stopping Bulldogs’ junior running back Nick Chubb.

The stability of Georgia’s offense depends on the success of Chubb, who was held to 63 rushing yards on 19 carries in last Saturday’s 28-27 win at Missouri.

Chubb’s best performance for the 2016 season came in the Bulldogs’ season-opening win against North Carolina, where he rumbled for 222 yards and two scores on 32 carries. Chubb currently ranks second in the SEC in rushing yards (365).

“I do know they have great backs,” Moore said of Georgia (3-0, 1-0). “They are going to run the ball, and that’s what we have to stop.”

Game info:

Ole Miss and Georgia will face each other at 11:00 a.m. (CT) at Vaught-Hemingway in Oxford. The game will be televised on ESPN.

About The Author

Courtney Smith

Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men's basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.

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