OXFORD — University of Mississippi football coach Hugh Freeze said there were times last week when the bigger, stronger, and faster University of Texas Longhorns manhandled the smaller Rebels.
Still, the Rebels never quit.
As long as that’s the case, Freeze said there’s hope.
Ole Miss (2-1) will travel to face Tulane (0-2) on Saturday in New Orleans for its final non-conference game before Southeastern Conference play begins.
“Physics took over and they still got 5 yards,” Freeze said of Texas. “It’s hard to battle that part of it.”
The first-year Ole Miss coach is trying to win games with a roster that is short on talent. But even in the hopeless final minutes of the 66-31 loss to Texas, players were flying around the field and trying to make plays.
“We’re going to see if we can improve, clean up some of our mistakes and travel down to Tulane and get a win,” Freeze said.
The Rebels have already made some changes in the secondary. Junior Charles Sawyer, one of the most experienced defensive players, is moving back to cornerback after the coaches experimented with the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder at safety. Freshman Trae Elston likely will start at safety.
Elston had a good game against the University of Texas at El Paso on Sept. 8, but was suspended for the Texas game by the SEC after it ruled he made an illegal hit against UTEP. Freeze wasn’t pleased with the suspension, and said Elston’s presence would have helped against the Longhorns.
“He’s as talented as we have,” Freeze said. “In the future, you would hope our program gets to a point where we don’t have to start a bunch of true freshmen unless they really deserve it. He does deserve it in the situation we’re in.”
Sophomore Cliff Coleman is one of the many young players in the secondary. He said the Texas game footage will provide opponents with plenty of material as they try and figure how to attack the Rebels’ defense.
“I expect challenges from certain quarterbacks, but I’m not afraid of any of them so it’s nothing to me,” Coleman said.
The Rebels also hope to get more pressure on the quarterback. Texas sophomore quarterback David Ash had plenty of time to throw and was 19 of 23 for a career-high 326 yards and four touchdowns.
Ole Miss has some young players on the defensive line Freeze is excited about, but for now, they’re woefully undersized.
The defensive line is usually where the 300-pounders roam, but the Rebels are trying to make do with guys like Issac Gross, a freshman who is only about 270 pounds.
Ole Miss hopes to work out some of their defensive issues against Tulane — a team that has plenty of problems. The Green Wave has scored just 22 points. First-year Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said many of his team’s problems are self-inflicted.
“Rutgers and Tulsa are good teams, but you can’t win a game when you’re starting out first-and-20,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to win with six or seven sacks. We just can’t make the simple mistakes. We can’t jump offsides, we can’t do those things.”
Ole Miss hopes to continue Tulane’s frustration. Cornerbacks coach Wesley McGriff said the Rebels’ effort is there. He’s adamant the results will follow.
“They’re playing hard,” McGriff said. “… But at the end of the day you have to make plays and you have to get more turnovers than your opponent and you have to take away opportunities. We’re not quite there yet but we’re going to get there.”