Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze kicked off game week Monday when he spoke to the media for the first press conference of the season. Freeze, who enters his second season as the Rebel headman, is excited to get the season started.
“To open the college season on opening night on national TV is somewhat of a responsibility our staff and our kids have to this great university to represent it well,” Freeze said. “We don’t take that lightly. We’re very motivated. We’ve spent an enormous amount of time preparing, hopefully to go in with a very young football team in an environment with a very mature football team. That’s somewhat of an unknown with how our young kids will perform.
“We don’t get a warm-up shot with a tune-up game. We’re going to have to do it for real in a tough environment against a team that’s proven over the last few years that that opening game with them at home is something they’re always ready for. No question Coach Franklin and his staff have his kids ready to play. They’re a play or two away from knocking a top-10 team off last year. It’s going to be a great challenge. It’s one we’re very excited about.”
Last season, the Rebels were hindered with depth issues, but with the progression of younger players and the addition of the talented recruiting class, it is not as big of an issue as it was last year.
“We’re going to play a lot of young kids,” Freeze said. “Last year, we played a lot of young kids. We’re playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores. We have a few leadership seniors in some key spots. We’ll need them to settle us down at times.
“We’re still thin at some spots. I don’t look at our depth chart right now and say we’re totally there. We’re not at where I perceive SEC depth charts to be. We’re better than we were this time last year. I don’t know if that will equate to more wins or not, but it was a step in the right direction.”
All of the freshmen have done their jobs so far. In fact, Freeze even said, “Those guys are as ready as any freshman I’ve ever seen.” However, the guy that takes most of the headline is the former No. 1 overall recruit, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.
“If he can just understand to go out and play the game like he has the last four weeks, I think he’ll be fine,” defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said.
Freshman husky Tony Conner will also see a lot of playing time, and the coaches are excited to see how big of an impact he will make against offenses that run multiple schemes.
On the offensive side of the ball, the freshman talk centers around wide receivers Laquon Treadwell and Quincy Adeboyejo.
“Laquon is a big body. He helps you as quarterback because defenders can’t get around him to make a play on the ball,” junior quarterback Bo Wallace said. “Quincy is a good route runner. He’s a little banged up right now, but still looks good out there.”
As for Wallace, he feels good about where his surgically repaired shoulder is and how he has progressed mentally in fall camp.
“I was stressed out after the first week or two of camp,” Wallace said. “Finally, the game slowed back down for me, and it felt like it did at the end of last year. I think I was concentrating too much on my mechanics instead of just playing football. I’m just going to throw it. I don’t care what it looks like as long as it gets there.”
In last year’s loss to Vanderbilt, much was made about the Rebels’ inability to score touchdowns once they go into the red zone. This year, the offensive staff and personnel feel they are going to be better in that aspect.
“We feel like we will be a better offense this year just because so many of our guys are coming back,” offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. “We just have to execute, and as coaches, we have to give them a better plan that will help them score down there.”
On the injury front, Freeze said everyone besides junior wide receiver Vince Sanders, who is out with a broken collarbone, and senior wideout Korvic Neat, who is out a month with a knee injury, should be ready to play Thursday.
The biggest concerns are at cornerback, which saw its two top returners, senior Charles Sawyer and junior Senquez Golson, miss a lot of time in fall camp.
“For all of camp, Charles has been doing conditioning,” Freeze said. “The last week we turned him loose. The last few practices he’s been in a normal jersey and playing. Senquez is not quite that way. He started Friday and was not as far along condition-wise as Charles is. (Sophomore) Quintavius (Burdette) will get the start. He’s earned that. Senquez will come in. We’ll see how the game goes. Charles is prepared to play both boundary and field corner.”
Junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, senior defensive end Cameron Whigham, sophomore nose tackle Issac Gross and sophomore running back I’Tavius Mathers have all been nursing injuries during the fall, but Freeze thinks they will all be good to go for the season opener.
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