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September 3, 2012
OXFORD, Miss. -- Hugh Freeze's Saturday was special. It was a day he'll never forget.
Sometime late Saturday night, however, hours after Ole Miss had disposed of Central Arkansas, Freeze turned his attention to Texas-El Paso.
He wasn't thrilled with what he saw.
"I was hopeful that I would put on the film and see a team that maybe is not playing with great passion," Freeze said. "But that couldn't be farther from the truth. Coach (Mike) Price has those guys playing with a lot of passion and heart, and they got after one of the best teams in our country last weekend. We've got our hands full with them."
UTEP, which will head to Oxford on Saturday night, lost at home to No. 4 Oklahoma, 24-7, this past Saturday, but the Miners were tied at 7-7 in the second quarter and within a field goal well into the second half. Sophomore running back Nathan Jeffery set a school record for UTEP Saturday, rushing for 177 yards. However, the Miners passed for just 48 yards against the Sooners, its second-lowest tally in 98 games of the Price era in El Paso.
"I'd watched some film from last year and felt they were a good team, but I felt like we'd score some points," Freeze said. "Then you turn this one on and really, if they made field goals (UTEP missed field goal attempts of 45, 31 and 41 yards), they probably don't fake a punt and they're probably holding a lead. They've got our attention. I assure you. They're definitely a different-looking team."
PASSING EFFICIENCY 'WHO WE ARE': Ole Miss completed 25 of 31 passes on Saturday against Central Arkansas, good for 330 yards. A lot of the damage done was on short passing routes.
"That's who we are," Freeze said. "We'll take our shots. I've got to examine each game, I think. Last year (at Arkansas State), my deal was we were going to take three shots a quarter and I felt like we'd still get the first down. I don't know that we're at that stage in our program. I've got to evaluate us on who we are."
KIFFIN FOCUSED ON FIRST TWO DOWNS: With Ole Miss clinging to an eight-point lead toward the end of the third quarter Saturday, the Rebels' defensive line stepped up and got the ball back to their offense.
After an incomplete pass, Uriah Grant and C.J. Johnson - the reigning SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week - sacked Central Arkansas quarterback Wynrick Smothers on consecutive plays.
Ole Miss continued its second-half assault and ran away from the Bears, 49-27, for an opening win. Defensive line coach Chris Kiffin expects the big plays from his group in favorable down and distances. It's getting to those down and distances that he's focused on with UTEP coming to Oxford in five days.
Stopping the run and minimizing at the start of each series is the Rebels' main goal.
"Unfortunately, early on, we weren't able to force them into third-and-medium and third-and-long situations so we didn't have those opportunities," Kiffin said. "Any league you have to have pass rush, but third down is where you really make the money and maximize opportunities. You have to minimize what the opponent does on first and second down to set it up. If you give a quarterback time, he's going to find a spot and move the chains.
"The plan is to stop on first and second down. We have to stop the run first and shore up that. If so, we can definitely rush the passer and make life more difficult for the opponent. You just have to start that process by stopping the run on first down."
Plays were limited for Kiffin's two heralded true freshmen, but he was pleased with what he did see. Issac Gross, who had two tackles, started but missed most of the game with a minor calf injury. Channing Ward was used on passing downs and had one tackle.
"(Gross) went yesterday, limping pretty good," Kiffin said. "That's the kind of competitor he is. Yesterday was a new day and a fresh practice, and he hopped in there and got the reps. For a freshman to do that, when he could have sit it out and watched, he operated and he should be full speed tomorrow. Just to tell you guys, he looked awesome (Saturday). He played 11 plays and looked really sharp. It's a shame he got injured, but life goes on. He prepared like an upperclassman. It was his first start, and he had the look in his eye. He prepared well.
"(Ward) looked good, played 19 plays and missed only one assignment. Only being here 10 days before his first game, that's really good. The mental part he did really well. He's going to be great, but it'll take some time. He'll get all the reps he missed back the next few weeks at practice. The sky is the limit for him when he cuts it loose and plays fast."
WALLACE EMBRACES 'GAMER' REPUTATION: Quarterback Bo Wallace, who was 20-for-24 for 264 yards and two touchdowns while adding 82 yards and a score rushing in Saturday's opener, has heard himself called a "gamer" throughout his playing career. The label implies he's much better in game action than he is in practice, and it's not a label he runs from.
"I think it's always been that way," Wallace said. "I might not be the most accurate. I might not be the fastest or anything like that, but I feel like in the game, whatever it takes, I've always done my best to get it done.
"It's weird. I'm so much more relaxed in a game than I am at practice. I guess it's being out there by myself and being able to play. I don't know what it is. Definitely in a game, I'm a lot more relaxed."
JOHNSON HONORED: Johnson was honored as the SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week by the league office Monday.
The defensive end from Philadelphia, Miss., notched six tackles and a sack in helping the Rebels defeat the Bears 49-27.
"I just have to give credit to my teammates," Johnson said. "Without them and without the coaches preparing us well, none of this would be possible."
With Ole Miss up just one score in the fourth quarter, Johnson's sack ended a UCA drive and provided momentum that resulted in three straight Rebel touchdown drives to seal the win. He led an Ole Miss defense that limited UCA to just one second-half score.
"The only expectation I has was to win the game," Johnson said. "A lot of the pass sets, they weren't as deep as a lot of guys. A couple of those guys were a little slow and a couple of times I got pressure. My ball get-off was extremely slow, and that's something I want to work on this week in practice."
It is the first SEC weekly honor of Johnson's career and the first for a Rebel since Bobby Massie was named Offensive Lineman of the Week after the Louisiana-Lafayette game in 2010.
REBEL RUMBLINGS: Defensive tackle Issac Gross (calf) practiced Sunday. Running back Randall Mackey (illness) went to the hospital Sunday and was feeling much better Monday. Running back Jeff Scott (back) is expected to make his season debut on Saturday after missing the opener. Wide receiver Collins Moore, Freeze said, will be turned loose in practice this week in an effort to see where he is in his recovery from a torn labrum suffered last month. Freeze said he'll make a decision regarding surgery or rehab no later than after next Saturday's game against Texas. Freeze said he decided to use freshman quarterback Maikhail Miller in mop-up duty Saturday night because he believes "we're going to need him. I do believe we're going to need him before the year's up in the stuff we do. He throws as good a deep ball as anybody we have."
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