As the Ole Miss football season enters the home stretch, head coach Hugh Freeze recognized the challenges facing his team but emphasized its resiliency and emotional investment at Monday morning’s press conference.
“I think history would show that our staff has had decent results after disappointment,” said Freeze. “We tend to bounce back. I think it has to do with our approach.”
The Rebs will be tasked with bouncing back against the LSU Tigers, who are coming off a disappointing loss of their own at the hands of Arkansas. The importance of the year’s final two rivalry games is not lost on Freeze as he attempts to instill the emotion of the game into the team’s newcomers.”We started introducing them to this rivalry game, [to] make sure they understand what it means, and the history of it,” Freeze said.
He added that he was pleased with the attitude of the team over the bye week, during which they were able to squeeze in one more full practice than usual. He also said that his staff used the bye to travel and recruit in addition to prepping for LSU’s visit.
Last year’s 10-7 loss in Baton Rouge was the first blemish on the year for the Rebs, who were vying for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff at the time before fading down the stretch. However, Freeze said that his staff won’t necessarily use last year’s game in preparing emotionally or schematically.
“I can’t speak for [LSU], but I know firsthand the disappointment that not only comes with just a loss, which happens, but a loss that comes after you’re in a position that you really want to be in,” he elaborated. “They’ve got a different defensive coordinator now, so I know our offensive staff won’t focus on [last year] at all. Defensively, we might reflect back some.”
The Tigers’ defensive line is coached by former Rebel coach and Louisiana native Ed Orgeron, who was Hugh Freeze’s boss during his tenure in Oxford. Freeze was quick to downplay any sort of strategic advantage that comes with playing against a former coworker, though, saying that “there [are] more than just [Orgeron] making those calls on that staff.”
“I know what he did when we were together,” he admitted, “[but] even if you know his whole scheme, you don’t know when he’s going to call it, when they’re going to move, all of those things… [I] know he’ll have his D-line ready.”
The star of the show, as it is any time LSU is on the field, will be Tiger RB Leonard Fournette, who Freeze hailed as “one of the best backs, probably, in the history of the SEC.”
Swarming to the ball is a specialty of junior safety Tony Conner, who Freeze said is “about 60%” recovered from his injury. The defensive staff will insert Conner in some more simple packages, but he will play on Saturday. The Rebel secondary will need his help after giving up 53 points and 6 touchdown passes to Arkansas two weeks ago.
“We’re playing a very, very good football team,” Freeze reiterated. “They’re one of the more talented groups in the country. We’re going to have play our best football game to win it here.”