By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
If Hugh Freeze thinks of himself as an artist who is energized when sitting before a blank canvas, he’s at the right place.
There is much to be fixed with Ole Miss football – and this week’s shuffle in the secondary just one example.
Yet while the speed of Texas produced a disaster highlight film on defense in the Rebels’ 66-31 loss, there has been noticeable improvement.
Offensive success so far is a tangible result of what might be Freeze’s biggest accomplishment to date, the off-field achievement of fixing confidence and helping players accustomed to losing believe that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Listening to junior offensive tackle Emmanuel McCray on Monday was like hearing what passes, very mildly, for Ole Miss smack.
It was McCray saying, in a way, that, “Hey, that SEC schedule coming up isn’t that bad after all.”
That Ole Miss players remain confident coming off a 35-point loss speaks to where they’ve been. If those losses begin to mount, well, that’s another story.
For now, the Rebels will try to keep things in perspective and understand it was a very talented team that took them to the woodshed last week. It won’t be the last talented team they face, and Freeze must develop a plan to close the gap. Alabama, LSU and Georgia will be fast, too.
Moves on the horizon
Part of that plan involves personnel moves among his defensive backs this week. Like his players, he’s trying.
The Rebels saw enough of good against Central Arkansas and UTEP – and in some cases against Texas – to remain upbeat going into their final non-conference game Saturday morning at Tulane.
Here’s McCray on the importance of being 3-1 when SEC play starts Sept. 29 at Alabama: “Some teams that are in the SEC haven’t turned out to be what everybody thought they were. Our schedule is looking a little lighter than it did before, and going into the SEC at 3-1 would definitely help our confidence.”
McCray sees what many others see, and that’s a Western Division whose pecking order is reshuffling beyond the top two teams.
It’s not that the rest of the division becomes immediately vulnerable to last year’s weakest SEC team. It’s that Ole Miss has seen a quarterback – who is young and needs to mature – execute a system that has running back Jeff Scott averaging more than 100 yards and receiver Donte Moncrief playing like an All-SEC player.
The rest of the West has time to improve. So does Ole Miss, though there’s only so much Freeze can create until he creates through recruiting.
For now, self-confidence is an important first step. McCray and his teammates have that, and they’ll have more of it if they follow through at Tulane.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.