The time to prepare has arrived after just a short holiday break. Coach Freeze and his Rebels are ready to get back to business as they arrived last Saturday afternoon to New Orleans for the upcoming Sugar Bowl against the Oklahoma State Cowboys which is now just less than a week away.
For those of us having college football withdrawals, the wait is nearly over. Here’s a Sugar Bowl Snapshot of what Coach Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss’ defensive end Mike Hilton and Ole Miss’ tight end Evan Engram had to say.
In opening, Coach Freeze said, “(I’m) thrilled to be here. From the time that it was announced that we were selected for the Allstate Sugar Bowl it was excitement from Rebel Nation and obviously our staff and kids. We enjoyed a little time off for Christmas and I am anxiously awaiting our team meeting tonight so I can look our guys in the eyes and remind them why they are here – to compete against a very good Oklahoma State football team.”
On playing in the Sugar Bowl: “We’re totally honored to accept the invitation to the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Growing up in these parts, hearing the stories of how the Ole Miss people feel about this bowl is just ‑‑ we’re really pumped about bringing our fans and our team to participate in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. It’s kind of a bucket list thing if you’re a coach at Ole Miss to bring a team to this bowl. Just really honored and excited about this opportunity.”
On the momentum of the program that has come from beating Alabama: ”Oh, yeah. They’ve been the gold standard in this conference for years. And, when you’re able to win on the field against them, it pays great dividends in recruiting. The Ole Miss brand now is, I think, better than it’s ever been in recruiting nationally. And we’re able to get into recruits’ homes much easier. And we’re in the battle for the top guys in the nation now, and that’s the only way that you’ll maintain the standard that we set of playing in New Year’s Six bowl games. Beating great programs like Alabama is a way to do that. So it certainly is a great, great momentum builder to do that.”
On Oklahoma State: “Oklahoma State and Coach Gundy’s team is a really, really, really good football team. They score in a lot of ways and their special teams are solid. Defensively, they remind us a lot of us; stingy in the red zone, give up some yards but when you’re playing good offenses like they have you are going to give up some.”
On stopping two quarterbacks: “We have prepared for both, they play both guys in every game pretty much, and we will be ready for both. It is hard to stop those guys, the coaches do a great job preparing them, they have great skill guys and both quarterbacks play well.”
On the status of Fadol Brown, Tony Conner, and C.J. Hampton playing in the bowl game: “Fadol and Tony are going to go ahead and have surgeries. So they will be out for the bowl game. C.J. Hampton, we believe that he will be back but it’s still kind of day‑to‑day. And if he’s got ‑‑ his nerve has to respond in that finger that he’s got properly before we allow him to hit. But I anticipate him being back.”
On Denzel: “Denzel I do not anticipate playing, but he is doing well.”
On the importance of a winning a bowl: “I think it’s important that you perform well on these games for recruiting. It’s all about momentum. And I don’t know that any single game ever wins the recruiting battle. But, certainly, it doesn’t hurt at all and that can definitely benefit you. So it’s important that we play well and have a chance to win it.”
On the direction of the program and focus of the players: It’s extremely hard in this profession when you have disappointment. The onslaught of the outside voices that everyone has to block out. And you have to move on to the next game and stay true and stay to the course of who you want to be and to your core values and to continue to motivate your players every week to build upon the things that you’re trying to teach them. It is very difficult.
“We all are competitors. We have the highest goals every year to compete at a high level. And if you don’t get that done, it’s certainly ‑‑ you have to look yourself in the mirror and you’ve got to put it away and move on.
“I think our staff have been very good at that over the course of our four years. And our kids have responded over and over and over again. And our goal now is just to improve on that consistency so that when a year comes that depth chart is right. You can’t control injuries and can’t control some other things. But, hopefully, we’ll have one of those years where we stay healthy and that depth chart is where it needs to be and we can even improve upon what we’ve done the last two years, which has been special.”
Ole Miss’ defensive back Mike Hilton also attended the opening press conference with tight end Evan Engram. Below are Mike Hilton’s comments.
On learning from last year’s bowl game: “It was something we kept in our minds throughout the whole summer and through the season. It wasn’t the way we wanted to go out. Throughout this whole week we have been preparing a lot better and we’re ready.”
On preparing for this bowl game: “Everybody’s more focused. Last year everybody was a little looser and having fun. We just got down to New Orleans, so now we’re more focused and ready to put on.”
On being in New Orleans: “We’re going to have our off time, but we have to spend it doing the right thing. We have to focus on winning the game and practicing, that’s what all of our energy and effort really has to go to.”
On demonstrating Ole Miss is a program here to stay: “Oh yes it is, just seeing where we came from and where we’re at now. We still got a lot of things to work on. We’re coming up on the uprise. We’ve still got the guys who can take this program to a whole new level and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
On playing huskie or corner: “I’m probably going to go back and forth, but most of time I’m probably going to be playing huskie.”
On the importance of the Sugar Bowl for Ole Miss fans: “It means everything to them. This is like our national championship for the fans. Just basing off last year and how that went, it would be great to get a big win in the Sugar Bowl and get that taste out of our mouths.”
On limiting OSU’s explosive plays: “We’ve got guys on the outside that can cover well; we just got to make the plays when the ball comes our way. One thing their receivers do is attack the ball really well. We got to make sure guys on the outside go up and attack the ball. If we don’t come down with it nobody comes down with it.”
These are Evan Engram’s comments.
On the team’s commitment to stay focused: “I’m really pleased with how we’ve handled the outlook of this bowl, what our goal is to do here. Last year, we were focused and we were ready to play. But last year was kind of an eyes wide kind of thing and we weren’t really locked in like we should be. This year, we’re down here to win this thing. We’re going to have fun with the team events. We got great senior leadership and we’re all on the same page with what we’re here to do. There’s not going to be a minute that goes by that we’re not thinking about doing everything we need to do to win this bowl game.”
On what has changed from last year’s preparation: “Our energy. I feel like last week was one of our best weeks of practice all season. Coach Freeze set the tone at our first team meeting once bowl practice started; he set the tone of what we were going to do. From experience last year, we knew messing around and not taking preparation seriously could end up pretty bad for us. We’re on the same page. We want to be Sugar Bowl champs. We got rings last year for that game; I never really wear it just because of the outcome of that game. We want to be able to put Sugar Bowl champs on our rings this year. We’ve bought into doing whatever it takes to do that.”
On the importance of the Sugar Bowl to fans: “Before we got put in this bowl, I never really knew. As soon as we did, all the fans were tweeting and reading a lot of stuff about history with Archie Manning leading the team to win here. It’s very deep in our tradition and this university’s tradition. It’s resonated amongst our team just how we saw the response from our fan base and how excited they are to get down to New Orleans, and how well our fans travel wherever we go. Definitely, having their support and their excitement for this game for us has definitely put some fire under our butts to make sure we do what we got to do to win.”
On Archie Manning speaking to the team: “Not yet, but I’m pretty sure he probably will. I think that would be a good thing for some of our young guys and even for our senior leadership to kind of get his word. He’s really legendary, a lot of respect for him to hear his side of the story and what he had to do to get it done, I think that would really help our team.”
Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo is a HottyToddy.com contributor, veteran SEC sports journalist and Brown University graduate. She loves good cigars, good games and a smooth glass of bourbon — not necessarily in that order. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.