Every week, we'll be sorting through Hugh Freeze's presser to bring you only the notable information and explain why it matters. No more scrolling through long transcripts or sitting through a 20-minute video replay filled with 95 percent coach speak. We've already done that for you.
The diagnosis for Kendarius Webster is not good.
On a night that saw Ole Miss squander a 22-point lead and an opportunity to begin its season with a defining upset over a top-five team, the lowlight was watching Webster carried off the field in tears after wrenching his knee at a gruesome angle early in the first quarter. We already knew that the Rebs' starting corner was done for the year, but that didn't make Freeze's revelation any less jarring: "Webster tore everything, every ligament in his knee."
That's a horrid diagnosis; one that raises the question of whether Webster will ever be the same player he was before the injury.
The news is relatively better for running back Eric Swinney, who only tore the ACL. Still, that means another missed season for a guy who sat out his freshman year with a stress fracture.
Redshirts could be lifted against Wofford.
Swinney's injury—which, combined with the academic of ineligibility of Jordan Wilkins, leaves Ole Miss perilously thin in the backfield—led to the announcement that we all saw coming: Freeze said freshman running back D'Vaughn Pennamon's redshirt "is probably not going to happen" and that he'll "probably see some action this Saturday."
The more intriguing question is whether five-star freshman quarterback Shea Patterson plays this weekend. Freeze said on Wednesday that he and Patterson will sit down on Friday and "see kind of where that goes."
On one hand, Patterson is a potential program-bearing passer who Freeze would do well to preserve for an extra season. On the other, the only other QB on scholarship behind Chad Kelly is inexperienced former three-star Jason Pellerin. If Kelly were to miss any time, the Rebs would prefer that Patterson have some live snaps under his belt before stepping in.
Freeze was refreshingly candid about the issues in the secondary.
When asked a question like "why did your defensive backs suck so hard in that second half against FSU" (OK, maybe that wasn't the exact phrasing), most coaches would rattle off a few canned lines about effort and move on. Freeze's response was significantly more substantive.
Eye discipline on defense and just playing poor technique. Some of it had to do with you lost Ken and he’s our boundary guy that you expect to play 95 percent of the snaps. Then you put somebody over there that maybe is not as comfortable, and his technique was really bad at times. It cost us some. And then if you’re carrying a guy, your eyes shouldn’t be in the backfield. Just doing your job on defense. It was the crucial third-and-longs that really killed us in that drive right before the half. I think I’m as hard on critiquing us as coaches as anybody, and when you look and say, ‘Man, that’s a perfect call,’ then we’re either not communicating it well enough or teaching the techniques well enough or they’re not disciplined enough to do their job. We’ve got to work through that. That’s why most people would rather play a game week one that you can maybe make those mistakes and still win. You can’t do that when you play one of the top teams in the nation.
Ole Miss allowed a redshirt freshman to average 8.1 yards per attempt and convert four of six third-and-5-plus opportunities in the second half. A big part of that was the Rebs' insistence on playing soft coverage on the outside, where Tony Bridges and Webster's replacement, Carlos Davis, looked completely lost.
"It wasn't very fun for me to see some of the technique that we had when we were in off‑coverage that we've got to get looked at and get corrected, and obviously it hurt losing Ken," Freeze said in the immediate aftermath of the game. "We really felt like he was a guy that we could leave on an island and have success. When we lost him, you know, it did affect us."
I understand being wary of less-talented DBs getting burned for big plays, but at some point while Francois was picking apart the secondary, you'd think the staff would have tried to make an adjustment. Instead, they just stuck with soft coverage and let FSU do the same thing that Memphis and Arkansas did last season. The coaches have to figure out a way to strike a balance between big-play prevention and disrupting offensive efficiency.