October 8, 2013 10:50:52 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
While the schedule doesn't ease up for the Ole Miss football team, the good news is the Rebels will be home for a while.
Ole Miss will play the first of six-straight home games at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) when it plays host to No. 9 Texas A&M at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The Rebels have only played once at home this season. Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) dropped its second straight game Saturday, falling 30-22 at Auburn.
"We're not happy with where we are, but we thank God we're not where we used to be," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Monday at his weekly media gathering. "The journey continues. It's been a very difficult stretch of road games. I'm disappointed in the outcome, but I'm extremely proud of the fight and battle our young men showed."
Conservative projections had the Rebels 3-2 after five games. After winning the first three for the first time since 1989, those thoughts changed as Ole Miss vaulted into the national rankings.
In back-to-back losses to Alabama and Auburn, though, Ole Miss managed two offensive touchdowns after averaging 38 points per game in the first three.
Ole Miss is one of three teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision to have played four true road games.
"You see the young kids in particular having to go through the study hall and tutoring and classes and then everything we ask them to go through," Freeze said. "To get back home with some of the late trips we've had, be back here Sunday for a pretty thorough day also. There are times all of us wish we could just lay at home a day and watch the NASCAR race or the Presidents Cup. That's just probably human nature. I don't know if (it has affected them) physically because I think we have a good plan, but mentally I think it's stressed them a bit. Being at home is going to help us get back maybe to a little more normalcy because that's not a typical season. I don't know if I've ever coached in (a season) that's been shaped like this. Hopefully they'll get back to some normalcy."
While the change of venue should please the Rebels, the schedule won't get any easier. A game against No. 10 LSU follows the game against Texas A&M. A victory in either or both would greatly enhance Ole Miss' chances to play in a New Year Day's bowl game.
To win one or both of its next two games, Ole Miss will have to re-establish its running game. The Rebels managed 124 yards rushing Saturday.
"We pride ourselves in the run game," Ole Miss sophomore offensive lineman Justin Bell said. "It's more of a statement play. I feel like we will be able to move the ball. We just have to move the double team and get to the linebackers. If we get our guys to the safeties, it's going to be a show."
Last season, Ole Miss may have suffered its most bitter defeat in a 30-27 setback to Texas A&M in Oxford. The Rebels led 27-17 with 14 minutes, 56 seconds remaining. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel then led the Aggies on two drives to snatch the victory in the closing minutes.
"You have to be multiple (against Manziel)," Freeze said. "You can't give them just one thing. There are no bad coaches in this league and they have tremendous players, so they will make adjustments if they get a beat on what you're doing. We did have a good plan (last year). We contained him for the better part of three quarters, but in the fourth quarter he showed why he won the Heisman Trophy."
Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1) is coming off a bey week. Prior to that, Texas A&M won 45-33 at Arkansas. While Texas A&M is averaging 49.2 points per game, it is allowing 6.1 yards per carry -- compared to 3.7 yards last season.
"We want to run the ball," Freeze said. "We want to be balanced. I think our stats prove that over the course of time. We like to be balanced, but teams are taking things away from us that are making us try to do different things that maybe we're not as gifted as a team. We have to continue to work on those things because good teams make you do different things than what your bread and butter are typically. We'll work hard again on doing some things.
"We had a good package last week that we really liked that was good to us early on, particularly with Barry (Brunetti) in the game, but we just got behind and didn't feel like we could be as balanced in doing certain things. We're going to continue working on our running game."
Defensive end Carlos Thompson is expected to be a game-day decision, while defensive end C.J. Johnson is expected to return after being held out of the game against Auburn. Center Evan Swindall has a toe injury and leading rusher Jeff Scott has a thigh bruise, but both are expected to play.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter