Hugh Freeze

Alex Okafor tries to get past an Ole Miss offensive lineman in Texas' last game, a 66-31 win in Oxford. The Longhorns had five sacks and forced three turnovers in the victory but defensive coordinator Manny Diaz estimated that they missed 11 tackles in the game, costing them 120 yards.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

The last time Texas played Texas A&M, the Longhorns came out on top. The Aggies have since gone to the SEC and taken the college football world by storm, elevating their program to a place where they can rightfully claim Lone Star State supremacy. 

But now that they’re in the SEC, they can’t prove it on the field. Ole Miss is another SEC squad who fell to Texas the last time it faced the Longhorns, also on its own turf. But the Rebels get the chance Texas A&M doesn’t – to prove that they have passed the Longhorns up on their way to newfound national relevance. 

They won’t waste that opportunity.

Since Texas trounced them by five touchdowns in Oxford last September, the Rebels gave Alabama a better game than Notre Dame did in the national title game, nearly knocked off Texas A&M, beat Mississippi State for the first time since 2008 and won a bowl game for the first time since 2009. 

And if you thought Mack Brown was a good recruiter, wait until you hear what Hugh Freeze did. After winning seven games in his first year at Ole Miss, he signed the fifth-best recruiting class in the country last year, according to ESPN. 

It was a group that included the nation’s best wide receiver prospect (Laquon Treadwell), best offensive lineman prospect (Laremy Tunsil) and best prospect at any position (defensive end Robert Nkemdiche).

Since trouncing Ole Miss by five touchdowns in Oxford last September, on the other hand, the Longhorns were blown out by Oklahoma for the second straight season, extended their losing streak to Kansas State to five games, fired one coach (Manny Diaz) and saw another accused for paying players while at another school (Larry Porter).

There is no better time for the Rebels to come to Austin, with Texas breaking in a new defensive coordinator and coming off a brutal defeat against BYU when it allowed a school-record 550 
rushing yards. 

“It was just unacceptable,” head coach Mack Brown said. “When you lose at Texas, it’s bad. When you lose like that, it’s really bad.”

Texas has been losing like that a lot lately. That embarrassing effort in Provo led to Diaz’s dismissal and marked the 10th time since 2010 the Longhorns lost a game by at least 12 points. They suffered 11 such defeats in the previous 12 years under Brown.  

An offensive line that has started more combined games than any other in the country suddenly has trouble run blocking. A defense promising problems leading to allowing more yards in school history last year still can’t tackle. A head coach 16 wins away from becoming the all-time wins leader at one of the most storied college football programs in America may be on the hot seat. 

And a team with a 35-point home loss almost exactly a year ago still fresh on its mind is on its way to Austin right now.

Just like last season, Ole Miss enters a matchup with Texas siting at 2-0. However, the Rebels aren’t the same team the Longhorns saw in last season’s 66-31 blowout.

Instead, the 25th-ranked Rebels are a squad basking in confidence after a strong finish to 2012 and a Top 10 ranked signing class. On the other hand, the Longhorns are looking to stop the bleeding after a shocking 40-21 loss at BYU last weekend.

“We’re excited to be 2-0 and to be going to Austin,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “It will be a great atmosphere, and [Texas] will have a chip on their shoulder. Texas will be ready to prove that they are better than they performed last week. We 
understand what we’ll get from them. We’ll have to challenge our kids to see if we can raise our game and match Texas’ level of intensity.”

Last year, matching the level of intensity and physicality was a challenge for Ole Miss. Texas put up 676 total yards, including 350 yards on the ground in last year’s contest, and it was the first failed test of the Freeze era 
in Oxford.

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace called last year’s game with the Longhorns “overwhelming” earlier in the week, but he also added the Rebels are more prepared going into a big matchup.

And why shouldn’t they be?

Wallace and Co. have been through the gauntlet that is the Southeastern Conference Western Division since then.

But most importantly, the Ole Miss offense relies heavily on one play: the read option – which happens to be what broke the back of the Texas defense that gave up 550 rushing yards to BYU.

“That’s what we do,” Wallace said of the read option. “As long as we execute, we feel like we’re going to get some yards.”

In six quarters of action this season, Wallace has led Ole Miss to 70 points and six of the Rebels nine touchdowns this year have come from the read option. So there’s little doubt Freeze’s offense feels it’s up to the challenge come Saturday, but on the defensive side of the ball, it’s a different story.

Ole Miss remains extremely thin in the secondary, so Texas should test the Rebel corners with deep balls early and often like last year. On the ground, Ole Miss is better suited to slow down the Longhorn running backs.

The Rebel defensive line returns some key pieces from last year and added the No. 1 overall recruit in defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who has started the first two games of the year. Still, the front seven for Ole Miss will be tested Saturday night.

Despite the distractions surrounding Texas’ program, the Longhorns still have to be the team to beat.

However, it shouldn’t be the same blowout game as last year. Freeze will have his team ready to play, and if Texas gets down on itself, it could mean a big win for Ole Miss.

Bo Wallace wanted to go to Tennessee.

But Lane Kiffin didn’t want him. He was just a two-star recruit from a small 
Tennessee town.

Wallace ended up signing a letter of intent to play at 
Arkansas State.

After redshirting his freshman year, he decided to take the junior college route, transferring to East Mississippi Community College. He wasn’t trying to get noticed by SEC schools anymore, he was just trying to get noticed by someone.

And 4,604 yards, 53 touchdowns and a 12-0 record did just that.

The two big Mississippi schools came knocking for the 6-foot-4 quarterback.

“He’s a pocket passer but moves a lot better than what one would think,” Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College head coach Steve Campbell told The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger. “And (he) is bigger and stronger. That’s what separated him from a lot of people that just drop back there and throw it. He can throw the football but he also has some mobility. I think he’s a heck of a football player.”

Ole Miss beat their in-state rival, Mississippi State, for the heralded JUCO transfer.

After winning the quarterback competition in camp, Wallace started from Day 1 for the Rebels and in his third FBS football game, he faced the Longhorns.

He showed flashes of brilliance throwing a 75-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief and barreling through Longhorn defenders on a fifteen-yard run, showing what he could do with his 209-pound frame.

But for the most part in last year’s game, he struggled. A 7.9 quarterback rating. Three interceptions. A 66-31 loss.

“I think having a year and a half with Bo playing is good,” Freeze said. “After Texas last year he played some very big games at good places in this league. So I believe that has got to better prepare him for Saturday’s game.”

Now, in his second season with the Rebels, Wallace faces lofty expectations. He’s got standout wide receivers around him in Moncrief and receiver Laquon Treadwell, the top wide receiver prospect coming out of high school last year, according to rivals.com and ESPN. He’s got a No. 25 next to his school’s name.

They are No. 25. Texas is unranked.

“You look at the game last year and we learned a lot from it,” Freeze said. “We know that we have the talent to play with them this year, and we just have to prepare and get ready for them.”

And while Freeze is unsure on the defensive game plan of Texas after the firing of Manny Diaz, he does have some ideas.

“It certainly is an uncomfortable feeling. We already had a shell of a game plan together based on what they had done last year and early this year. Is it still a good plan? I don’t know,” Freeze said. “You have to believe they’re going to work hard on stopping the run. I heard on Coach Brown’s phone conference earlier that is the priority. What that means, I don’t know but we’ll figure that out early.”

If Texas figures out how to stop the run, then the game will fall on the arm of Wallace.

 

Freshmen look to roll in Austin

Ole Miss landed three five-star recruits in Hugh Freeze’s second year at the realm.

Robert Nkemdiche was the No. 1 player, according to rivals.com, in the class of 2013. Treadwell was No. 5 and Laremy Tunsil No. 14.

All those recruits were No. 1 for their positions.

They weren’t like Bo Wallace, where Freeze just had to outplay Mississippi State.

All three of these guys had offers from Alabama.

But they chose Freeze over Saban.

“All of the freshmen, they’re not regular freshmen,” Monfrief said. “Those are some big-time guys that made big-time plays. That’s what we needed.”

Nkemdiche starts at defensive end and has collected five tackles. He also ran for 11 yards and a first down on a fake punt. Even Mack Brown is impressed.

“6-foot-5, unbelievable freshman,” Brown said. “ He can rush the passer.  Run right over you.  Such a man.  Played some tailback in high school.  He’ll be an All-American, first-round draft choice before he leaves there.”

Treadwell became the first Ole Miss receiver to catch nine passes since 2006 — in his first game.

“I can’t stress how good of kids Laquon and Laremy and Robert are,” Freeze told RebelGrove.com. “I was a little concerned that maybe they’d have a little too much ego. Not at all. They’re like sponges; they just want to compete.”