Year three for Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze brings lofty goals to Oxford. Freeze shocked the college football world in his first season on the job in 2012, winning seven games and toppling intrastate rival Mississippi State for the first time since 2008.
Freeze took the next step in 2013, as the Rebels posted an 8-5 record and sprung an upset over SEC West rival LSU. Furthermore, his staff reeled in its second straight top-15 recruiting class, per 247Sports.
But it wasn't a giant leap forward. Mississippi State upset the Rebels in overtime in the Egg Bowl to close out the regular season.
How are the Rebels looking this spring, and what should the expectations for the program be in the third year of the Hugh Freeze era? Freeze went 1-on-1 with B/R's SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee to answer those very questions.
Bleacher Report: Your spring game takes place on April 5 (this Saturday). Who are some of the unknown players who have impressed you this spring that fans might expect to become household names this season?
Hugh Freeze: Oh gosh, if you start offensively, I think you have to go with [wide receiver] Quincy Adeboyejo. I think he's really blossomed. He's getting his fair share of reps with the "ones." We thought that he'd be a special player coming out of high school, and he's proven that what we think could be really, really accurate.
I think Daronte Bouldin, a redshirt offensive lineman, and Carlton Martin have given us some really good reps with the "ones" in the offensive line, which is a place we're fairly thin at. Everybody talks about Laremy [Tunsil] and Austin Golson, but those two guys have had really good springs.
Running back-wise, I think Mark Dodson has had as good of a spring that we thought he would. We moved Quintavius Burdette over to slot and have been pleased with his progress. Quarterbacks get talked about all the time, and I think everybody can see where we are there.
B/R: Speaking of quarterbacks, Bo Wallace is going through spring after sitting out last spring recovering from shoulder surgery. It never really seemed like he was 100 percent last season. How important is it that Bo is going through spring, and how has that accelerated his development?
HF: The reps have been good for him, but what has been better for him is the opportunity to have an offseason conditioning program. That's what he really missed out on. He came right into fall camp (last year) having not really had a chance to strengthen that arm properly, and it just consistently went downhill as the wear and tear started in the season. We probably threw in too much in practice last year early on, and I think it showed. The reps have been great, but I'm more excited about him having a full offseason of conditioning so that he can get it in the best shape he's ever had it in.
B/R: Obviously, in your offense, Bo is going to carry some of the load in the running game. How important has it been for you to establish a true between-the-tackles running game with a running back?
HF: It's very important. One guy I failed to mention besides Dodson is Jordan Wilkins, a redshirt tailback who's up to 218 pounds. We've been real pleased with how he's run between the tackles. Everybody already knows I'Tavius [Mathers] and Jaylen [Walton], but those two guys [Dodson and Wilkins] have been able to do some things that we may have been lacking a bit in last year.
B/R: The Internet became abuzz when the pictures of 6'3", 296-pound quarterback Jeremy Liggins surfaced this spring, but you haven't been too happy with the way he's played at quarterback this spring. Is there going to be a role for him in this offense this year?
HF: Oh yeah. I can't say at what time that happens. He's got some things he has to satisfy academically to be eligible next fall, with one of the appeals he had based upon him being in junior college for only two semesters. He looks to be in good shape on those.
This guy helps our football team. He can play a lot of things, from defensive tackle to defensive end to offensive line to tight end to quarterback. He's a really good athlete, but for what we do tempo-wise, he would really struggle to play a consistent number of plays in a row.
Then, with everything being so new to him with the terminology and the system, things are moving at a rapid pace for him. That has been the biggest thing. He still makes some great throws. In a scrimmage the other day, his numbers weren't great (1-for-8), but he had some drops and he's running with the "threes," and sometimes that affects his play. There will be a role for him for sure, and we're excited we have him.
B/R: Just how good do you expect Laquon Treadwell to be? Can he have a better career than Donte Moncrief?
HF: Ohhh, I think so. He's in a system that will give him that opportunity, where Donte was only in it two years. Quon's going to be in it at least three, and possibly more depending on what happens. I would expect his numbers to be better. He'll be better at some things, but Donte is faster than Quon. I tell ya, I couldn't be more pleased with the leadership he's showing out there.
B/R: Robert Nkemdiche started out at defensive end and then moved down to defensive tackle almost full-time toward the end of last season. Is his permanent home now at tackle, or will you rotate him a bit this year?
HF: He'll be listed as a defensive tackle, but we obviously have packages where, if we get into some of our odd stuff, you'll see him line up in 5-technique some. His future is a 3-technique.
B/R: Will he play running back (as he did versus Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl), and, very important, what number will he wear (his No. 5 is the same number as running back I'Tavius Mathers, which is a penalty)?
HF: Ha, yeah, I have to get the number stuff situated. You'll probably see him do that at some point. It's embarrassing I guess, to some point, that I didn't know the rule. I just thought you couldn't have two of the same numbers on the field at the same time. I wasn't aware that there was also a rule that says you can't have two numbers who play the same position, even if they're not on the field at the same time. My argument to that was, "does that mean one snap per game?" Because he's really not a tailback. But if he lines up there one play, does that rule apply? Their interpretation that night was "yes," but I'm going to have some talks when we have our coaches meetings to make sure I understand it totally.
B/R: Safety Cody Prewitt's versatility provides a lot of options for you in the defensive backfield. How creative are you going to get with him, and will he see some time at linebacker?
HF: Well, if we feel like we can get into an eight-man front against some of the offenses that we're running against, then he will be that guy. But if you're playing an offense that doesn't really give you a chance to do that much, then he'll be at safety.
I do feel his future, if he continues to mature, is as an outside linebacker for the next level. But he's a pretty good safety, too. You'll see him roll down some, but he won't do it full time. Well, I should never say "never," because you never know how injuries and other things can affect your team.
B/R: Every coach has an idea when he takes over of where he wants the program to be. Where are you heading into year three as opposed to where you expected to be at this point when you first got the job?
HF: I think we're way ahead of schedule. If someone would have told me my first spring that we got here that we'd win 15 games and two bowl games, inheriting a team that hadn't won an SEC game and won only two games the previous year, I'd have been thrilled, because the teams in this league aren't getting worse. They're not going backwards.
I was just hoping that we'd go to a bowl game in year three, to be candid. We accelerated the expectations in a lot of people's minds, but I don't get too caught up in that. I just sort of stay the course of our journey here, compete every day, and hopefully we'll have a chance to win the opener in Atlanta versus Boise State. That's really where our focus is. I've really never been one to get into what will define us; it's just "do we compete on this given day?"
B/R: The Egg Bowl ended with Bo Wallace fumbling in overtime. How much do you think about that game, and how much do you hear about it?
HF: I don't think about it a lot now. I did at the time, for sure. There's a period of time afterward. That was a disappointing way to end the season, but we had a chance to go beat a good Georgia Tech team in the bowl game and play better and feel better about ourselves, because I know what that game means to so many in this state. They played better than we did that night, and that's the way this game of football goes. I haven't heard too much about it, but I start my speaking tour after spring ball, and I'm sure they'll remind me when I get on the road.
B/R: Do you have any thoughts on the Northwestern players being allowed to unionize, and what is your stance on players getting paid?
HF: I'll plead some ignorance on some things. I haven't spent enough time studying exactly what that means, so I'm probably not a good source. I believe strongly that our players deserve more than what they get. What that exactly looks like, that's above me. But I'm a strong advocate that we need to do our due diligence in determining what a scholarship really means and how much the cost of attendance is. Anything we can do to help our young men, I am for that.
B/R: How relieved are you that the 10-second-rule drama is over...for now, anyways?
HF: I'm relieved. Obviously, I was one of the more outspoken ones on that. I'm thrilled that it's over right now. Certainly it will come back up. I have respect for people on both sides of it and understand that people believe different things in different ways. It's good that we can have healthy discussions about it, and hopefully what is best for our sport is what happens.
I'll continue to do my best to look at all angles for the safety of our players first and what's best for our sport secondly. Hopefully, there's enough support that we can keep it as it is. I think our sport has a great interest right now, at an all-time high. I think people enjoy watching it, and I don't think that because you run more plays that there will be more injuries in a tempo offense.
Barrett Sallee is the SEC Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.
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