COLUMN: It had been a parade of symbolic wins for Hugh Freeze, at least up until last Saturday. Winning back enthusiasm for the Ole Miss program by sharing his own genuine love of the university when he was first hired. Winning the war of academic attrition after he inherited a huge amount of eligibility issues. Winning the future by installing an aggressive and downright fun offense for fans.
Last Saturday, Freeze won for real, albeit in a shaky manner. The Rebels looked hell bent on reverting to their old ways for two quarters of play – interceptions, hiccuping offensive drives marred by switching out quarterbacks, a woeful defensive plan that was done in by missed tackles, bad special teams and so on.
Then, there’s what was once a notorious failure for the previous regime: halftime adjustments. But like a second dawning of a new era, the Freeze Rebels debuted.
The defense held enough to get the offense back on the field, and each time a series of fast, up-tempo plays kept UCA on their heels and the Rebels in the end zone, five times in a row, no less.
For a fan base and community humbled so often for so long, an eventually dominant win over a FCS team didn’t cure apathy (several seats in Vaught-Hemingway were empty), but it provided concrete, believable reinforcement to what Freeze has promised.
Now the slow road back reaches UTEP, a logical single step up in terms of competition and quality, but dangerous still. The Miners played in reverse on Saturday night, stumping Oklahoma’s offense for three-ish quarters but missing key field goals that could’ve swung them an upset. In the end, they failed to capitalize, and like Ole Miss, OU’s offense woke suddenly and with vigor.
Too soon for confidence
Still, it’s hard to think that a team that can’t pass the ball (UTEP managed under 50 yards in the air), can’t make field goals (Ole Miss’ 0-for-2 wasn’t as bad as the Miners’ 0-for-3) and can’t create scoring opportunities in general will be an easy out for the Rebels. It’s still just too soon for that kind of confidence. Sure, there were a ton of refreshing moments for fans in the UCA win, but most fall under the category of a team just simply doing their job – like stopping an FCS opponent’s scoring drives – rather than creating something remarkable.
Baby steps are still the order of the season, but the Rebels can’t afford to be foggy for two quarters against this team. The first half effort must improve – longer drives with more plays on offense and, dare I speak it, turnovers created on defense (the Rebs had only 10 INTs all last year).
Certainly more mistakes will come, but it’s the period between those mistakes and their overall frequency that matters right now. Fans are anxious to talk about the looming monsters to come – namely Texas next week – but for the time being the schedule couldn’t be kinder for the Rebels’ rehab, as long as they can show forward progress.
(Steven Godfrey can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter, @38Godfrey.) (September 6, 2012, Page 9)