In his Monday press conference, Hugh Freeze remarked that his No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels' modus operandi this past Saturday in a 35-20 win over No. 21 Texas A&M was "to go in there and set the tone early, play a sound game and win the turnover battle and protect the football." Per his observations, his team "played well enough offensively to manage the game and let our defense win it."
Indeed, just a quick eyeball test of the game revealed that Ole Miss played a very simple, conservative offense once they established a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. With a large lead, the Rebels used a lot of slowly developing run plays and read option to reduce the possibility of a turnover, milk the clock, and give Texas A&M long fields after mostly sound special teams play.
The Rebel offense even turned on the afterburners midway through the third once Texas A&M had cut the lead to 21-7 on a three yard Trey Williams touchdown run, responding two drives later with a 9 play, 65 yard march downfield that ended in a 33 yard touchdown strike to Quincy Adeboyejo in the seam. On the next drive, the A&M's Kenny Hill would fumble the ball into the hands of Rebel linebacker Keith Lewis, and with the game at a 35-7 margin in the fourth the Rebel offense would return to its slow, deliberate, vanilla gameplan.
The Ole Miss defense also played conservatively when the Rebs took a lead. The defensive line did not rush more than four men for much of the night, and the back seven gave receivers big cushions and soft zones, trading in their hard-hitting, swarming style to avoid injury and giving up too many big, quick plays.
To give you a better idea of what this looks like in the box score, here's what both teams did on offense when Ole Miss had a lead of 14 or fewer points:
When Ole Miss was playing to establish the lead, the offense ran up-tempo, used a lot of misdirection, and put the ball downfield to the Rebels' big receivers. The defense blitzed, covered receivers in man or shallow zones, and worked to force turnovers.
Now let's look at the numbers for each offense when Ole Miss' lead was greater than 14:
And let's compare the percentage of each team's offensive totals when Ole Miss' lead was great versus when it was not so great. Y'all like pie charts, right?
[Obviously the "lead" in both charts represents the Ole Miss lead.]
So just over three quarters of Ole Miss' offensive output came when the Rebels were building a 14-0 lead early and in the third quarter when they were turning a 21-7 lead into a 28-7 margin, whereas just under ninety percent of Texas A&M's offensive output came after the Rebels had established a sizable lead.
So Coach Freeze was right to describe his gameplan as "set[ting] the tone early" and playing "well enough offensively to manage the game and let [the] defense win it." That's exactly what they did.