Hugh Freeze looks for improvements against Georgia Southern
OXFORD – Hugh Freeze makes it clear he has not been frustrated with the effort his team has shown this season. Instead, the fifth-year Ole Miss head football coach has been vexed by the Rebel’s relative inability to slow down their opponents’ ground game.
Auburn’s running back Kamryn Pettway rushed for 236 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries in the Tigers’ 40-29 win over Ole Miss last weekend. LSU’s Leonard Fournette rumbled for 284 yards on on 16 attempts the week before.
“It continues to be an issue for us on defense, stopping the run and giving up explosive plays, but I have zero frustration in the effort of our kids.”
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze
“I do continue to have frustration over not being able to fix a recurring problem,” Freeze continued. “That is something we have to just keep grinding on to fix to give us a chance to win when you are playing some of the top teams in the country that are in the Southeastern Conference Western Division. But, our team is determined.”
Georgia Southern leads Sun Belt Conference in rushing yards per game
The Rebels (3-5, 1-4 SEC) currently rank 118th out of 128 FBS schools in the nation in rushing defense and they will be tested again today (11 a.m. CT, ESPNU) by a Georgia Southern football team that thrives on running the football.
The Eagles are averaging 239 rushing yards per game, which leads the Sun Belt Conference. Three running backs have rushed for at least 400 yards this season for Georgia Southern. They are led by Wesley Fields at 423 yards. Quarterback Kevin Ellison has 408 rushing yards to go along with 579 yards through the air. Matt Breida has gained 406 on the ground.
“Traditionally, they have done extremely well when they are playing power five teams,” Freeze said about Georgia Southern, which defeated Florida on the road in 2013.
“They are a scary matchup because of all the athletic guys they have running that option offensively.”
Hugh Freeze on Georgia Southern’s option offense
Outside of the Eagles running game, they have a solid threat at wide receiver in B.J. Johnson III, who’s the team’s leading receiver at 23 catches for 320 yards. On defense, especially in the red zone, Georgia Southern has been able to avoid giving up a lot of points.
The Eagles (4-4, 3-2) rank 22th in the country in red zone defense, giving up only 21 red zone scores.
“We’ve got to score touchdowns with the way we are playing defense right now,” Freeze said about a Rebels’ offense that ranks 16th in the nation in red zone offense. “We need to get it in the end zone. It is a worthy opponent on Saturday.”
“I am glad we are home again. I encourage our fans to continue to keep supporting these kids and to be extremely loud to make communications difficult on the opponent.”
This is the first meeting between Ole Miss and Georgia Southern. The Rebels have a 30-1-2 record against current Sun Belt teams, including a 4-0 record under Freeze. The Eagles are Ole Miss’ first unranked opponent since October 1 against Memphis. The Rebels are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, which is the first since 2013.
Offensive line banged up
Left guard Javon Patterson practiced at center this week in place of Robert Conyers and Sean Rawlings. Conyers, who has started for the Rebels all season long at center, has been dealing with knee injuries and is questionable for the game today. Rawlings, who’s No. 2 on the depth chart at center but starts at right tackle, was in a boot earlier this week, according to Freeze, and is likely also questionable.
Right guard Jordan Sims also worked some at center this week, though he has been battling an ankle injury. Sims, who suffered the injury against LSU and was questionable going into the Auburn game, was forced into last week’s game against the Tigers after Daronte Bouldin suffered a hip pointer.
Bouldin practiced with the team on Tuesday. Left tackle Rod Taylor sat out with a high ankle sprain and is questionable.
Youngblood works out as linebacker
John Youngblood had some reps at linebacker earlier this week. Youngblood, who has mainly played at defensive end this season, has recorded 22 tackles, and 1.5 tackles for a loss including recovering a fumble. Linebacker DeMarquis Gates didn’t practice earlier this week after suffering a knee injury.
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.