Hugh Freeze was asked the big-picture question on Saturday night, seconds after Ole Miss messed with Texas in a big way in front of the third-largest crowd in Memorial Stadium history.
The question was not big picture in a sense of, Can you win 10 games this year?
Ole Miss fans who endured a substandard product in five of seven years before Freeze’s arrival would like to know if they can expect him to build a program and not a season.
It’s not easy to think in the abstract right after a game when you’re trying to process the what and how of 60 minutes, make sense of it all and explain why things happened the way they did.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s just one step,” Freeze said. “We didn’t take six tonight.”
Here’s what we know about this team.
Depth is not what it needs to be at all positions, but it might not be as bad as Freeze has said at times. Look, coaches never think they have enough depth, but when you subtract an All-SEC linebacker, as the Rebels have with Denzel Nkemdiche’s injury, and his replacement is your leading tackler for two straight weeks, as Serderius Bryant has been, you’re doing pretty well at that position.
Depth isn’t that way at all spots, but the staff is building depth. Mike Hilton’s move to cornerback is an example of that.
We’ve also seen Ole Miss as the stronger second-half team in the two meaningful games. Throw out the Southeast Missouri game, because reserves were playing more than half the game.
Freeze and his staff made the adjustments, whether with personnel or scheme, to make a difference after halftime.
This staff has recruited well and has put freshmen in a position to help. With Laremy Tunsil running first team at Texas, five of them are now starters. Relying on freshmen is not ideal, but it speaks to two things: the quality of these players and where Ole Miss is in this stage of program-building.
The big picture usually takes time to evolve and can’t easily be answered right after a game. For Texas coach Mack Brown, this game could have lasting impact. In the short term it will only make his detractors louder.
For clarity, Ole Miss beat a team that had just fired its defensive coordinator and lacked two key offensive performers, one of them the starting quarterback.
That was still Texas-type talent across the field, however. And the Rebels went on the road and beat a BCS conference opponent by three touchdowns.
Giving Texas a beatdown in its stadium can only enhance recruiting inroads Freeze was already making in the Lone Star State.
Big picture? It’s too early. Any single win loses value if you don’t seize opportunity and follow it up.
What we’ve seen from this team early on, however, suggests it won’t let that opportunity slip away.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs at Djournal.com.