Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze meets with the media Monday.
OXFORD, Miss. -- Hugh Freeze slept 30 minutes Saturday night and Sunday morning before it was time to turn the page and prepare for another game.
Losses, especially those of the 27-26 home variety such as the one Ole Miss suffered to Vanderbilt Saturday, can be devastating. The Rebels, needing a win over the Commodores to get their sixth win and become bowl-eligible, were predictably crushed to blow their fourth-quarter lead to the Commodores.
However, Freeze said he won't let the disappointing results of Saturday impact the big-picture view he holds of the program.
"We continue to be very, very proud of our young men," Freeze said. "One of the things I know that is definitely true to our staff is we can't afford to be in the results-oriented business. It has to be about the process and the state of our program when we got here. There's too much at stake in the lives of these young men that depend upon us to prepare them each week for manhood and for football games. We continue to strive to set the core principals and foundations for which our program will be built on. Nothing will change this week as we prepare for a very difficult game against LSU. I'm proud of the attitude our young men had yesterday and excited about coming in and finishing our season with two great opportunities."
Ole Miss (5-5 overall, 2-4 in the SEC) travels to LSU (8-2, 4-2) Saturday. The Rebels are 20-point underdogs in Baton Rouge. A week later, Ole Miss plays host to Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3). Ole Miss needs one win in those two games to get to a bowl game for the first time since 2009.
"I can't stress the point of how much it took for them to get to this point," Freeze said. "If you look at the improvements we've made in so many areas from last year to this year, which goes to the kid's credit, they've really given all that we've asked. I have no doubt that every Sunday they've done exactly what we've asked in bouncing back and putting the past behind them. That locker room and the coach's locker room was a painful place on Saturday night, we don't run from that fact.
"We have to be process-oriented and not result-oriented because there is too much at stake. Not from just a football standpoint, but from a standpoint of how you're maturing as young men and how you handle your daily businesses when you're disappointed. This process is way too important for us to get caught up in the results that may or may not occur. They bounced back fine yesterday. It's been a long season with our depth issues and that is a concern, finishing strong. We have to make sure we're wise in the way we're practicing them, the length of our practices and what we're asking them to do these last two weeks. There's no question that we're fatigued a bit and physically beat up. We'll make adjustments in our practice schedule to make sure we get them enough rest to make sure we're at our best the next two Saturdays."
FREEZE SEES BALANCE: Ole Miss struggled to get anything going on the ground Saturday against Vanderbilt, but it wasn't for a lack of effort. Freeze said Saturday night that perhaps he should have thrown the ball even more against the Commodores, but on Monday, he defended the Rebels' strategy.
"We threw for 403 yards so that's a pretty good day," Freeze said. "We threw it 50 times. Anytime you lose, there are things that you can look at. I've seen people mention about running it too much on first down. We ran it 21 times on first down and threw it 16. That's pretty balanced. In this league you have to be a threat to run the football. Some of the runs we called, if you understand our offense, are in the decision making of some young men sometimes who don't always make the right decisions. We have to look at ourselves and make sure we're coaching them better. We should have taken some quick throws to the outside, but we didn't.
"To be close to 50-50 is pretty good. We averaged 4.23 yards on first down, which should keep us on track for our tempo. We got 90 plays in the game so we were doing OK in that regard, also. We did have two sacks on first down so that's the danger. Our average starting field position was the 17. Their punter did an outstanding job. To me he was the MVP of that game. We started nine possessions inside the 20-yard line. When your defense is playing well, the last thing you want to do is put them in a hole by turning the ball over or something. We probably could have thrown it a little more, but it wasn't as skewed as it seemed. Everything is magnified when you lose a game in the manner in which we did and as close as it was."
DEPTH BECOMING BIGGER ISSUE: Tight end Ferbia Allen suffered a knee injury Saturday and won't play at LSU, leaving the Rebels with some 59 scholarship players to take to LSU. Depth, as it's been all season, is now a drastic issue.
"The only place we're really rotating some people is in the interior defensive line," Freeze said. "On the back side, we're not afforded the opportunity to rotate a lot of kids. With the rigors of this schedule that we've had, you get beat up, your legs are not quite as fresh and you're not getting as many breaks, and it does show sometimes. We can't use that as an excuse or a crutch. We have to fix that in recruiting, which we will. Right now, we have to press on with what we have."
SCOTT'S DECISION-MAKING: Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott was limited to 47 yards rushing on 24 carries against Vanderbilt. Often, Vanderbilt met Scott in the backfield. Other times, however, Scott failed to see open holes.
"There were a lot of times where we wished he had maybe made a different decision on where he put his foot in the ground and ended the run," Freeze said. "Our whole premise of our offense is staying on schedule. Whether it's a two-yard gain or minus one is big in the scope of things for us. We'll watch the film with Jeff. We already have. That's another kid that we're probably playing too many snaps. He's probably not as fresh as he once was. I know at his frame, he's sore. He's taken a lot of hits. We've got to evaluate helping him understand what would be a better decision on this run and at the same time give him some rest."
Freeze said Scott's backups _ Randall Mackey, I'tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton _ have the staff's confidence going into the final two weeks.
"The thing with Jeff is you know that he could pop one at any moment," Freeze said. "I don't know that we feel that way about everybody else. We will in time, but we should have enough confidence to get them in a course of the game."
PRESSURE MOUNTING: Freeze admitted Monday the push for bowl-eligibility has been talked about a lot, likely too much. There's not much he can do about that, however.
"It is what it is," Freeze said. "As we approach these next few games, it would be nice to have that out of the way, but we don't. There's still a lot to play for. You want it so badly for the fans, but also for the few seniors that we do have. You want the young ones to experience what that is like because we need the extra practices. We need that badly, to start building our program. You want to send those seniors out on a nice positive note like that, as well as it would give our fans some needed positive things."