September 17, 2013 10:11:37 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
With the Ole Miss football team off to its first 3-0 start since 1989, it would be normal for coach Hugh Freeze to worry about complacency.
Fortunately for Freeze and his staff, the name of the next opponent will take care of that.
Ole Miss has a bye week this week. It will face No. 1 Alabama at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 28 (ESPN) at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"We've been grinding (Monday) on self-scouting to try and figure out what we're doing well, what we're not doing well, what our tendencies are to try and get ready for the next stretch of games," Freeze said Monday at his weekly media gathering. "It's a very difficult stretch."
When the season began, Ole Miss knew a strong start would be critical with four of its first five games on the road. It has opened with three-straight victories, including a 44-23 in Saturday at Texas. The victory helped Ole Miss move up to No. 21 in The Associated Press' rankings.
Freeze said an early season bye week is a good thing for a squad that has been working hard since the opening of fall camp in early August. Ole Miss will complete its five-game season-opening stretch Oct. 5 with a game at Auburn.
"If I could design it, (the open date) would have been after Alabama just because it would break that four-game stretch up a little bit," Freeze said. "It is what it is. It's not a bad time. We've got some kids we really need to get healthy. It also gives us extra time to look at ourselves and see how we can break our tendencies and our self-scouting. It gives us more time to study our opponent, also."
Ole Miss will have a lot to study. Alabama is 2-0 and, like Ole Miss, 1-0 in league play. Alabama beat Texas A&M 49-42 Saturday in College Station, Texas, after opening the season with a blowout victory against Virginia Tech in Atlanta.
A year ago, some positive vibes for Ole Miss began after a closer-than-expected 33-14 road loss to the eventual national champions. While Freeze will look at Alabama this week, he said the focus will be helping players get healthy and working on self-evaluation.
"If you asked our kids they would rather play Saturday," Freeze said. "They're excited and feel good about the progress we're making. I don't know that this week helps or hurts in this regard. ... We don't really think about having to stay grounded too much. We just want them to be confident. At the same time, they need to understand that that was just one game. They hear that from us all the time.
"On Sundays, we have a little deal we do where we put the game in the trash and it's over --whether it was good or bad and no matter what happened."
Against Texas, Ole Miss built a 14-0 lead. The Longhorns scored the game's next 23 points only to see the Rebels answer with 30 straight points, including all 27 scored in the second half.
Senior running back Jeff Scott ran for 164 yards and a touchdown. He also returned a punt 73 yards for another score. On Monday, Scott was named Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after finishing with 243 all-purpose yards. He also was named to the third week Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll and was selected as College Football Performance Awards' Special Teams Player of the Week.
"We know we have several big games ahead, but the win (against Texas) really gives us a different level of confidence," Scott said. "When you lose to someone one year (a 66-31 loss in 2012) and are able to make up for that a year later, it is really big. We have that same opportunity with Alabama. We are going to go in there and play hard with nothing to lose."
Quarterback Bo Wallace was 17 of 25 for 177 yards with two passing touchdowns and a rushing score.
"Even though we don't play this week, it is another big week for us because it is another week to try to get better," Wallace said. "Everybody's excited, but you have to keep the mind-set you are going to continue to work hard every day in practice. That is the only way to reach the goals we have set."
Freeze is always looking ahead. He realizes Ole Miss will have to play "the perfect game" to have a chance to upset Alabama. Freeze also understands the importance of defeating a tradition-rich program like Texas.
"It's a big step in the right direction," Freeze said. "If you would have told me on my first day on the job, that in year two we would go to a place like Texas and pull off a win at their place, it probably would have been difficult for me to believe. I do think it is a sign we're moving in the right direction. Like I said in the postgame, it is just one game. It is a sign. We didn't take 10 steps forward, but we did take a couple. It's a good win. Experience is the best teacher in life. It will be something we can reflect upon and gain confidence."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter