OXFORD — Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Central Arkansas and UTEP bear no resemblance to Arkansas and Mississippi State, and that’s not to mention LSU and Alabama. Hugh Freeze’s Ole Miss program still faces some growing pains in the lion’s den also known as the SEC West.
But, bottom line, Freeze’s first team, which defeated UTEP 28-10 here Saturday night, plays with purpose and with a plan. They play hard. Offensively, they are crisp, unpredictable. They don’t miss a trick. Defensively, they run to the football and lock up on their tackles. They don’t waste timeouts. They get the ball in the hands of their playmakers.
And did I mention they really play hard?
Except for a sluggish third quarter, the Rebels dominated a UTEP team that challenged Oklahoma well into the fourth quarter last week.
Fundamentally, Ole Miss looked so much better than last season or the season before. The Rebels blocked better. They tackled better. They hit harder. They didn’t waste timeouts.
Bo Wallace, the quarterback who led East Mississippi to a national junior college championship last season, accounted for all four touchdowns. He threw for three and ran for one and was poised throughout.
What’s more, the Rebels out-rushed UTEP by a whopping 332-37. That’s a whipping. In other words, Ole Miss controlled the line of scrimmage against a front line against a team that held its own against the No. 4 team in the country last week.
Now then, here’s the obvious: We’ll find out a lot more about these Rebels when they play Texas next week. There will be a big game atmosphere. Unlike Saturday night, Vaught-Hemingway will be packed. National TV cameras will be here.
The Rebels can’t play one half as they did against Central Arkansas. They can’t play three quarters as they did against UTEP. Even four quarters against Texas might not be enough.
“We’re thrilled,” Freeze said. “The kids are having so much fun. . . We played four quarters with great passion. . . .We’re playing a bunch of puppies right now. They’re going to get better every week.”
They already are better than some, including this writer, thought they would be.