Measuring success on first down 

June, 20, 2011

The first time most people ever heard of Hugh Freeze was in Michael Lewis' bestseller "The Blind Side." Freeze was Michael Oher's high school coach in Memphis, Tenn. My first dealings with Freeze came in Oxford, Miss., while I was working on "Meat Market." Freeze was one of Ed Orgeron's assistants with the Ole Miss Rebels.

He proved to be quite the character. He wasn't short on bravado and stomped on some toes a time or two. I also realized that Freeze, a preacher, may be the best speaker in front of a group I've ever seen in person. Every Friday special teams meeting, when he trotted to the front of the room, was riveting. It was a series of short bursts of passion and enthusiasm that got everyone even more fired up for game day.

Since then, Freeze has risen up the coaching ranks. First, he sparked NAIA Lambuth College into an offensive juggernaut. Then, in 2010, he was hired as the Arkansas State Red Wolves' offensive coordinator. A listless offense that had been ranked 95th in the nation the previous year improved to 43rd. Under Freeze, the Red Wolves broke nine school records, which included rolling up 4,841 yards of total offense, which also led the Sun Belt. Freeze's boss, longtime ASU coach Steve Roberts, still got fired after a 4-8 season, but Freeze got promoted to take over the program. The Mississippi native will continue to run the Red Wolves' offense and serve as playcaller.

To get at the core of his fireworks show at Arkansas State, I spoke to him for the latest installment of our "Stats That Matter" series. Freeze told me he is big on first down percentage. "If we win on first down in our tempo offense and if we can get to second-and-7 or second-and-6 or better, we'll be successful," Freeze said.