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Five Hugh Freeze recruiting trends that stand out

Hugh Freeze
Hugh Freeze (USA Today Sports Images)

Through his time at Ole Miss and then at Liberty, coach Hugh Freeze has established certain recruiting trends that could now hold in his new job at Auburn. Here’s a look at five things that stand out about Freeze, his recruitment and his development as a coach:


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FREEZE GETS THE MOST OUT OF HIS QUARTERBACKS

The year before Hugh Freeze got to Liberty, quarterback Stephen Calvert threw 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. In 2019, Freeze’s first year with the team, Calvert totaled 3,663 yards with 28 TDs and only seven picks.

Another year in college football could have helped Calvert but Freeze’s tutelage and his ability to put quarterbacks in a situation to make the right plays definitely helped.

Another success story is Malik Willis, who was going nowhere in his career at Auburn until he transferred to play for Freeze at Liberty and he got the absolute most out of the quarterback. Willis went from almost no impact on The Plains to ending up as a third-round NFL Draft pick by the Tennessee Titans.

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HE COULD BE LOOKING FOR HIS NEXT WILLIS

One major part of Auburn’s issues this season was at the quarterback position where the talent was not exactly there, the playcalling was stale and nothing seemed to be working at all. It wasn’t an issue of players trying hard but through a brutal SEC schedule and an offense without a high-end quarterback and elite playmakers at wide receiver, the Tigers got exposed.

Freeze will not abide by that. Whether it’s through the transfer portal or through high school recruiting, finding a quarterback that fits his needs - usually one who’s a skilled pocket passer but absolutely possesses dual-threat capabilities - will be found.

Finding guys like Antonio Gandy-Golden, who was a star for him at Liberty, or the next DK Metcalf and A.J. Brown which he had at Ole Miss will be in focus as well.

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FREEZE WILL RUN THE BALL WHEN NEEDED

There is no question Freeze likes to throw the ball, pressure defenses, put them in uncomfortable situations and make it difficult for them to defend his offenses.

But he will absolutely have no problem running the ball, either, so a commit like big-time four-star Jeremiah Cobb probably should not be scared off. If anything, Cobb and other running back targets should be encouraged that a competent offensive system is coming in.

His first season at Liberty, Frankie Hickson rushed for 1,041 yards and 12 scores. In 2020, Liberty averaged 5.7 yards per carry, 252 rushing yards per game and scored 27 rushing touchdowns. This season, Liberty had two running backs with more than 100 attempts and ran it far more than it threw the ball.

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RECRUITING MIGHT BE FEAST OR FAMINE

This is where I want to be a little careful because with Freeze comes risks including some alleged recruiting violations during his time at Ole Miss so it remains unclear how successful he was on the trail or whether inducements made him luckier than he should’ve been.

Looking at the classes, though, it was feast or famine during his time in Oxford where there were some wildly successful classes and at other times, not as great. To compete in the SEC West now - let’s also remember there will be a significant NIL stash to work from - the lean years cannot happen at Auburn because the competition is fiercer than ever.

In Freeze’s first full recruiting class, Ole Miss landed three five-stars in Laquon Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche and Laremy Tunsil. In 2014, the Rebels landed seven four-stars and then six in 2015 and four in 2017. It was the 2016 class that was also heavily loaded with five-stars Shea Patterson and Greg Little and then high four-stars Benito Jones, DK Metcalf and A.J. Brown.

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FREEZE WORKS BEST WITH DUAL-THREATS

We all know about Willis and the dual-threat capabilities that were evoked during his time at Liberty that made him - and that offense - such a huge success but let us not forget about how often the Ole Miss quarterbacks ran under Freeze as well.

Bo Wallace was never an accurate passer and that held back the Rebels’ offense at times but he also ran 120, 92 and 121 times during his three seasons as Ole Miss’ quarterback. After Chad Kelly got booted from Clemson and then went to JUCO, he landed at Ole Miss and had a tremendous couple years there under Freeze.

And ran a lot. In 2015, Kelly threw for 4,042 yards with 31 touchdowns and 13 picks and also ran 107 times with a team-high 10 rushing scores. The next season he carried it 81 times for five scores as well.

Freeze targeting an elite dual-threat quarterback in recruiting would not be a surprise at all.