Cleaning out the Sugar Bowl notebook

Cleaning out the notebook from Sugar Bowl week …

Takes one to know one: Oklahoma State defensive end Emmaneul Ogbah, himself a project mid-first round pick as an underclassman, had high praise for the Ole Miss offense.

“They have first-rounders on their team. Laquon and Laremy Tunsil … they’re great guys. They’re athletic guys.”

Ogbah is projected as the No. 16 pick by NFL analyst Mike Detillier.

Steady development: Tunsil and Fahn Cooper really did good work against Ogbah and held him to an uncharacteristic quiet performance with no sacks, tackles for loss or pressures. Ogbah was a three-star recruit who weight 230 when he got to Stillwater. He weighed in at 277 before the Sugar Bowl. “As a kid I was very athletic. I felt like if I put on some weight it wouldn’t affect me too much,” he said.

Conference Pride: I was surprised that the whole Big 12 vs. SEC thing was even a discussion after TCU dismantled Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl the previous year.

The conference pride discussion it seems is always nearby, however.

“We think about that a lot. When we watch ESPN they talk about the SEC a lot. They don’t give the Big 12 that much credit. They say nobody plays defense, but when you play 90-plus snaps compared to 50 or 60 the SEC plays it’s like two games with one,” Ogbah said.

Sometimes players just roll out clichés or statistics they’ve heard elsewhere. When conversation starting going down the number of snaps played road I went back and checked.

There’s no doubt that Big 12 offenses, most of them, push the tempo, but Ole Miss played more snaps than Oklahoma State in the regular season.

Gundy’s I’m a man speech: Thankfully we didn’t hear it. I think the speech and Youtube clip it birthed are old news around the Big 12, but when you step outside that footprint it’s the first thing many people think about when they hear Oklahoma State or Mike Gundy.

The day of the head coaches’ presser Chris Buttgen, who handles video and media needs for the Ole Miss coaches, was joking around with a few of us on Twitter. He was offering $10 for anyone who would ask Gundy about the speech.

I replied telling Buttgen you get what you pay for, and he needed to come up with a lot more than $10.

Truthfully, I had thought about the I’m a man speech as a possibly story and floated that question to several Oklahoma State and Ole Miss players.

“I didn’t know about that until I was scrolling on Youtube one day. It was after I already had committed. I was like, ‘Ha, that was funny.’ I found it accidentally. I didn’t have any second thoughts. He looks out for his players. He stepped up when guys were talking about his players. He said, ‘You said that stuff about him. You can’t be doing that to him. He’s not here to defend himself.’ He defends us,” Ogbah said.

Several of the Ole Miss players said they hadn’t heard of the speech or seen the clip. Not surprisingly, Fahn Cooper gave an outstanding response.

“I’ve seen it a bunch of times. I think Mike Gundy’s a good coach. I saw a thing about what it was actually about instead of just laughing at the video. I think that’s a sign that a guy is passionate and fired up about his job and his players.”

Cooper said players shouldn’t let a video clip dictate how they feel about a coach and made a comparison with Hugh Freeze and the Blind Side movie.

“I told him that when I first came down that, ‘In the movie they kind of made it seem like you were a jerk.’ Back when it happened the Mike Gundy thing was pretty funny. That was before I knew anything about college football or him or anything like that. Football is a game very aggressive in its nature. People get fired up. It’s natural. It will happen to me Saturday. I’ll be out there screaming and yelling until I lose my voice. That’s just part of the game,” Cooper said.

Walton high on Eric Swinney: Freeze raved about running back Eric Swinney on signing day last year. As experienced as the running backs were, Swinney would have had a chance to play as a true freshman because of the inconsistency of the run game had the foot injury not set him back.

Running back Jaylen Walton is gone now, but there’s still a lot of experience returning in Akeem Judd, Jordan Wilkins and Eugene Brazely.

Walton, though, likes what he’s seen in Swinney coming back from the injury.

“Him being off for six months without any type of work, he’s doing good. He’s coming in and learning every day. He’s definitely going to have a great opportunity to prove himself and get some playing time.”

Close to the vest: Gundy played the ‘I’m going to hide who my quarterback is game’ the whole week of prep.

When Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, who had been a candidate for the head coach job at Tulane, spoke to us he was friendly, out-going and talkative on every subject.

Except the Cowboys’ quarterbacks.

At that point Yurcich clammed up like Marshawn Lynch with an ‘I’m just here so I won’t get fined’ performance.

When the question was, “What can you tell us about Mason Rudolph’s health?” the answer was, “He’s a tremendous young man who’s doing his best to prepare for this game.” The follow up question from another reporter was, “Will he play for sure?” The response was “He’s a great leader that’s really doing a great job right now in his preparation.”

From there was just raised a white flag and asked how exciting it was to be in New Orleans for bowl week.

Come a long way: Ole Miss nose tackle D.J. Jones was very confident in taking on a larger role after the suspension of Robert Nkemdiche.

“I’ve come a long way from Week 1. The first five weeks I was feeling around. We got into SEC play, and I feel like I made a name for myself and did what I had to do.”

Jones doesn’t see himself as a dominating force next year but a very steady player instead.

“I wouldn’t say a star player, just a role player, somebody that can help the defense, help the team win the championship,” he said.

I think Jones could surprise himself.

Another Jones was helpful too: One story line that didn’t get a lot of play was the fact that Ole Miss cornerbacks coach Jason Jones was hired by Freeze away from Oklahoma State.

This was Jones’ third season at Ole Miss. Many of the players who knew from the other side were very young or just being recruited when he was still there, but there was some familiarity with a few of the players.

“I was there with J.W. Walsh (the running QB). Marcel Ateman, the wide receiver, was coming in. I remember recruiting him. I really liked him, and he’s doing a great job for them. I think he’s everything they hoped he would be. He does a great job of stretching the field and using his body to go up and get the ball,” Jones said.

Ateman had five catches for 70 yards in the Sugar Bowl.

I asked Jones to compare Gundy and Freeze.

“They … every head coach is different. Both of them are detailed as far as the day to day organization, the way they go about handling the team and things like that. Both of them get to practice, and it’s time to go to work. They stress doing the little things and working hard. There are a lot of similarities, more similarities than differences. Both of them do a great job of running the program and getting the guys ready on game day.”






Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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