After an exhilarating 39-35 comeback win over conference foe Vanderbilt Thursday, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media and is ready to get further into the young 2013 season.
“Excited to get back to work,” Freeze said. “I told our guys this morning when I saw them that they had six days off and they looked at me crazy. It feels like it’s been a little bit since we’ve been together, so its good to get them back this morning. I feel like their attitude was great, and I thought practice was really good.”
Right off the bat, Freeze was asked about the injuries to sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, who will miss four to six weeks with a meniscus injury, and junior offensive guard Aaron Morris, who is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
“The worst part of our game is to see how much effort they put in during the offseason and then they get to go play in front of everyone and to get that news is not easy,” Freeze said. “The good thing however is that (Morris) does have a redshirt available, so hopefully, we can get a medical redshirt and he’ll still have two years to play. Denzel, his is not season-ending, so we feel like he’ll be back, best case four weeks, worst case six.
“We are certainly still thin at spots, so hopefully we won’t have to experience this every week. To fill in for Aaron we’re looking to four guys to rotate in at guard right now and that’s Patrick Junen, Austin Golson, Jared Duke and Justin Bell. We’ll also work Emmanuel McCray inside as well. Denzel’s spot will be filled by Serderius Bryant and Keith Lewis.”
Now, the focus is past Vanderbilt and on to the rest of the schedule. Ole Miss escaped Nashville with a win that could prove to catapult them into a big year. However, after watching the game tape, Freeze said the team knows there are a lot of things to work on.
“They understand from watching film on Friday there is a lot of improvement that needs to take place,” Freeze said. “We’re real pleased to come out of a road SEC game with a win, particularly having to battle back several times and our kids fought the entire time. Certainly made a lot of mistakes, but we’re getting to correct them sitting at 1-0, which is a much better feeling.”
Even with the amount of mistakes Ole Miss had last week, Freeze said the effort was there and that it was one thing he was happy to see.
Another positive coming out of week one for the Rebels was the play of their freshmen. Huskie Tony Conner had an interception, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche had two tackles and an 11-yard first-down run on a fake punt, and tight end Evan Engram added five catches for 61 yards.
“He’s a natural route runner with tremendous hands,” Freeze said of Engram. “We feel like he can get bigger, which he will in time. I think you saw the other night what we saw in camp, which is his ability to play the game. He’s a ball player and he understands how to use his body and get open and he catches it well. That’s exactly what we saw at camp.”
Freshman offensive linemen Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson also saw a lot of snaps last Thursday, and with the loss of Morris, those guys will be an important piece of the offensive line rotation. For their first time out, Freeze liked what he saw.
“Laremy graded extremely high after the Vanderbilt game, and Austin was about average,” Freeze said. “Austin’s effort was phenomenal; he pulled the wrong way a couple of times but those are things a normal freshman will do, especially while playing inside. Inside a lot of things can go on and he’s only been taking reps there for about a week and a half, but I was real pleased with his effort and focus.”
Despite solid performances from the other freshmen, it was freshman receiver Laquon Treadwell who stole the show. He caught nine passes for 82 yards and was also named SEC Freshman Player of the Week.
“He’s come in and done everything we’ve expected him to do this season,” quarterback Bo Wallace said of Treadwell.
This week the Rebels will turn their attention to Southeast Missouri State who will come to Oxford for a matchup this Saturday.
“We are looking forward to getting back and particularly playing at home,” Freeze said. “That’s always special. We have to play with a little extra at home. We have to defend our home. We’re excited about playing at Vaught-Hemingway in front of our home crowd.”
Freeze said the coaching staff will move guys around in the secondary to get the most production from the cornerbacks. He mentioned that senior Dehendret Collins will move from corner to huskie, while a player at huskie will likely move to corner. The top candidate to make the switch is sophomore Mike Hilton, who has the speed and athletic ability to play corner.
Also at corner, senior Charles Sawyer and junior Senquez Golson both played in the season opener, but they were not fully healthy. Freeze said that Golson is the closest to being 100 percent, while Sawyer is getting “closer.”
Sophomore running back I’Tavius Mathers did not play against Vanderbilt due to an ankle injury. Freeze said he practiced Monday, but he is not at full speed. He added Mathers could probably play Saturday if they decide to do so.
For continuing coverage of Ole Miss football, follow @SigNewton_2 and @thedm_sports on Twitter.