COLUMN: LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze knows his team and overall program still isn’t where he wants it to be, but Saturday’s 30-27 win over Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium is another sign things are headed in the right direction.
Freeze helped guide the Rebels to their first road win in the Southeastern Conference since a win at Vanderbilt in September of the 2009 season.
Saturday’s victory was the fifth overall for a program that only won six the previous two seasons and the first over a team that arguably has more talent than the Rebels. How everything has come together depends on who you ask. From Freeze’s perspective, holding the players more accountable for the way they prepared each week is a key.
“It’s a good sign for sure. You’ll never get me to say we’ve arrived anywhere. We’re still on this journey and young and inexperienced but I tell you this, our coaching staff and our strength staff have done a tremendous job of building relationships with these kids,” Freeze said. “Obviously the kids deserve most of the credit for bouncing back from a very difficult loss, particularly those that have been here during the two lean years. It easily could have gone the other way but we made a decision to fight for 60 minutes and see what the scoreboard says.”
Dave Wommack, the Rebels’ defensive coordinator, came to Oxford with Freeze from Arkansas State. He saw Freeze do wonders for the Red Wolves — who are still playing well under Gus Malzhan — and added Freeze’s plan has worked for Ole Miss for numerous reasons.
“I think the credit goes to Hugh in the sense that he does such a great job of motivating. He really puts some love into this thing and God’s in it for us too,” Wommack said. “I think this program is different, I think it’s different under Hugh Freeze than any of the other programs I’ve been in over the years. I think it’s going to turn into something really special. Our word of the week was ‘courage’ and that’s what our team showed at the end. They stepped up and did it. We’re excited.”
Courage was definitely shown by the Rebels, who got contributions from several players Saturday, including wide receiver Vince Sanders, who scored the first touchdown of his career and finished with five catches for 40 yards.
“We knew coming into the game that it was a must-win game. Coach Freeze talked about courage all week and I felt like I had to come out here and do everything I could to help my teammates win whether it was catching or blocking. I didn’t want to let Coach Freeze or the Rebel Nation down so I did the best that I could,” Sanders said. “I believe we always bought in (to his system) it was just like we had to get used to it. It was the first time we were ever running no huddle on offense. Texas was our first big game and they kind of caught us off guard and got us down to where we couldn’t get back up. You learn from that and right now when we go on the road we know we have to compete with the best.”
Ole Miss has proven, once and for all, it can compete again in the SEC. The team has gone from being close in games to actually winning games at the end. The next step is winning at least one game more the last month of the season and earning a bowl game. That’s going to happen based on the way the Rebels believe and compete. It will be interesting to see which team is defeated for that goal to become fulfilled and see just how far this team can go the final third of the season. (October 29, 2012, Page 1B)