Storylines abound as the Rebels host Liberty and former Coach Hugh Freeze Saturday
OXFORD, Miss. — There are a number of storylines surrounding this Saturday’s game against Liberty.
Of course, there is former Ole Miss head coach and current Liberty coach Hugh Freeze’s return to Oxford — some Rebels love him and some don’t.
Hugh Freeze back at Ole Miss vs Lane. Where do I get tickets?
— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) November 2, 2021
There’s also much-deserved hype around the two opposing quarterbacks, Liberty’s Malik Willis and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, both of whom are having great season and attracting attention from NFL teams. There’s also the question of who Ole Miss has left to play on offense after the injury bug has taken its toll as of late.
The Return of Hugh Freeze
This weekend, Freeze comes back home. Born in Oxford and raised in Independence, Miss., Freeze was the head coach at Ole Miss for five seasons, 2012-2016.
As the head coach, Freeze led the Rebels to two straight nine-win seasons (2014 and 2015). In 2015, he coached the Rebels to their first Sugar Bowl appearance since 1970, after having earned a Peach Bowl berth in 2014 — the latter being the Rebels’ first major bowl appearance since the 1970 season. And of course who can forget the back-to-back victories over Alabama?
“The strangest thing will be being in the visitor’s locker room and on the visitor’s sideline” Freeze said recently of his upcoming trip to Vaught-Hemingway.
“Truthfully, I’m really excited to go back and see people. I just choose to remember I had great memories there (Ole Miss) and appreciate the people. I was born there, I was raised there and I’ll probably be buried there. It’s still home, that’s where my family still lives and so many friends there, so many I have reached out. I look forward to visiting with them if I can find time.“
Hugh Freeze on returning to Ole Miss for Saturday’s game
“It will be different, certainly odd, there was a lot of great wins in that stadium that I have great memories of, so I appreciate the people there, they’re good people. I’m happy they are winning again and competing again, Like I knew you could there. There will be some different feelings for sure,” Freeze said.
Before leaving Ole Miss, there was a certain quarterback that Freeze recruited to play at Ole Miss… he goes by the name of Matt Corral.
“Matt is an incredible talent. I recruited him when I was there, and I love watching. You can really get enamored with watching the tape of their offensive system, their scheme, and the way he just performs. He knows when to pull it down and go get him(self) three, a dirty three and it turns into a lot more sometimes for him. He knows where the ball should go, he’s playing at an extremely high level.”
Hugh Freeze on Matt Corral
Kiffin and Freeze connection
In the world of coaching, it is not unusual for many to have a connection or cross paths, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to Lane Kiffin and Hugh Freeze.
“I know Hugh a little bit from Chris (Kiffin), my younger brother, working here,” Coach Kiffin said earlier this week. “He’s always been good to Chris. I was in a restaurant in town, and he came by and sat down for a little bit. I know him a little bit, I have a great respect for him because I was on the other side when he beat us twice and he’s done a great job at wherever he’s been. He has a very unique offense that is always giving people problems.”
Hugh Freeze expressed much the same about Kiffin saying. “I admire and respect Lane as a ball coach,” Freeze said.
“He’s one of the best offensive minds in our time. What he’s done there has proven what I’ve always believed to be true — and felt like we showed — is that you can compete.”
Hugh Freeze on Lane Kiffin
“They’re on track to get a nine or ten-win season, maybe more, not going to surprise me at all. He’s put together a great staff. My relationship with him is good. He was always so kind when we were able to play them (Alabama). He was just very generous. He would stay after to see me, hours, after a press conference,” Freeze added.
Corral and Willis
There is no question Corral and Willis are two of the top signal callers in college football. At Saturday’s game 22 NFL teams are scheduled to be in attendance, including some general managers.
Been looking forward to this game all season because of the QBs and for Hugh Freeze returning to Ole Miss. pic.twitter.com/hqsq9vgSaB
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) November 4, 2021
Both Corral and Willis have been named to the final top ten candidates for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award award presented annually to the top upperclassman quarterback. Corral is the only SEC player to make the candidate list.
Corral and Willis are completing at or just over 66 percent of their passes, averaging at or just over nine yards per attempt, and are their team’s leading rusher.
And both certainly possess the ability to, at any time, make a crowd come to its feet with their own brand of ‘wow factor.’
It’s not often an opportunity like this comes around where fans can watch two of the top picks, both as QBs and as overall selections, in the upcoming NFL draft on the field in the same game — although, there are questions as to the health of Corral after he suffered ankle injuries at Tennessee and last week at Auburn. Hopefully, he will be able to take the field for the Rebels at kickoff.
Regardless of the many storylines, let’s hope the final chapter is a win over Freeze and the Flames!
Ole Miss and Liberty kick off at 11:00 a.m. (CT) at the Vaught. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.
Nick Filipich was born and raised in Biloxi, MS. He is an Ole Miss senior majoring in Sports and Recreation Administration. A sports junkie with a great passion for all things Ole Miss, Nick played baseball and football in high school — which is where he discovered his love for sports. He is an avid Braves and Saints fan, and in his free time enjoys spending time with family, friends and his black lab, Dixie.