NOTEBOOK: Freeze: ‘We have to improve’ on defense
After looking back on the game film from another 70-plus point performance and a second consecutive blowout win, the No. 15-ranked Rebels know one thing is still not to their liking — the execution of their defense.
Even though their opponents were held to 24 points — only 17 of those points coming from the offense — in the past two games, head coach Hugh Freeze had harsh truths for how the defense played.
“We have to improve,” Freeze said. “We gave up too many explosive plays for the second week in a row, which is something you can’t do. Most of it was because we weren’t aligned right. So we need to get the communication from the guys that are supposed to be lining us up.”
After Saturday’s 73-21 win over Fresno State, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack commented on how the defensive front was not able to adjust when the opposing tight ends would flip or move from one end of the line to another.
With the quickness of the game speeding up and the no-huddle offense becoming more than a passing fad, it falls on the defenders to refocus after one play and remember what they are supposed to do on the next play, something that may have been forgotten in the first two blowouts of the season.
“Probably when we make tackles, everybody is running and celebrating and kind of doing it too much to the point where we can’t get lined up for the next play,” senior safety Mike Hilton said. “It’s just something we’ve got to take as a defense and as a whole to say, ‘All right, let’s celebrate then line up and get ready for the next play.’ It’s just something we’ve got to get right.”
With No. 2 Alabama on the horizon, the easy games are in the Rebels’ review for the majority of the rest of the season. Failure to execute now could be more costly than turning a 59-point win into a 52-point win.
Alabama may be reviewing last season’s game film from its 23-17 loss to Ole Miss and looking to improve, but Chad Kelly is seeing the one game film and raising it 10 fold.
The junior quarterback has been referred to as a game film fanatic, watching it constantly when he is not on the practice field or in the classroom.
“Chad studies more film than I do,” Freeze said Monday at his weekly press conference. “I think that is obvious in the way he has performed.”
Kelly has watched the film from Alabama’s wins over Wisconsin and Middle Tennessee State this season as well as every one of its games from last season. It is all preparation for what will be the biggest game of his career — at Ole Miss or otherwise — up to this point.
“It’s going to be a fun week. This is where you make the money, and this is where everything counts,” Kelly said. “I started watching (Alabama) pretty much the first week, second week I got here.”
Watching game film for Kelly is not simply putting in the DVD, hitting play and then watching a three-hour game hoping he remembers every thing he saw. It is an intricate, grueling process that would wear on even the most enthusiastic player. Kelly pushes the limit as far as he can.
“I stop and rewind ‘til it starts hurting your head,” Kelly said. “You have to watch every player on the field, to the defensive line to the corners to the safeties.”
Kelly will stop game film only to put on the NFL where it is still not a pleasurable experience. He watches what he calls “the greats” of the league but also the defense against them to see what they do on every play and how the Tom Bradys and Aaron Rodgers of the league exploit it.
“They’re great for a reason,” Kelly said.
No frustration for Engram
Junior tight end Evan Engram has caught one pass for five yards in the first two games of the season. Last year, he was one of the most productive receivers, catching 38 passes for 662 yards and two touchdowns.
The lack of receptions, or targets for that matter, has not gotten to Engram.
“I’m not worried about it. Not one bit,” Engram said. “We’ve had little spurts like that. Everybody does, and it’s been a great opportunity to focus in on what I really want to be better at this season and that’s my interior blocking.”
Behind wideout Laquon Treadwell, Evan Engram was the most talked about offensive weapon for the Rebels in the spring, summer and fall camp. With the numbers not what they were a year ago up to this point, Engram has not voiced his concerns. The small stat sheet is not something he bothers himself with or with the coaching staff.
“If I don’t catch one ball all season and we win games and we accomplish our goals, I’m going to be a very happy camper,” Engram said. “One thing I’m strong about is just being a leader for this team, and leaders would not complain about not getting the ball.”
After spraining his knee against Fresno State, center Robert Conyers will have it treated during the week and is expected to give it a go Saturday against ‘Bama, Freeze said. … The Southeastern Conference office informed Freeze Monday morning the targeting call against Tee Shepard would stand, and he will have to stay in the locker room during the first half of Saturday’s game. … The SEC office also announced the Sept. 26 game against Vanderbilt will be at 6 p.m. and will air on ESPNU.