PARRISH ALFORD: Freeze, Wallace earn signature win

PARRISH ALFORD

PARRISH ALFORD

OXFORD

Former Ole Miss quarterback Kent Austin was the Rebels’ offensive coordinator in 2008 for Houston Nutt’s first team.

The afternoon sun was slipping away, hugs and handshakes had all been had outside the visitors’ dressing area when he summed up his young starting quarterback. Jevan Snead, in the third year of his college football journey but his first as a stater, had outplayed Tim Tebow and Ole Miss had defeated No. 4 Florida 31-30.

“Hey, he got ‘em one,” Austin said.

If Austin wanted to send down an email from his position as head coach and general manager with Hamilton in the Canadian league he might say the same about not only Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace but also Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze.

Missing five starters, Freeze fielded a defense that held No. 6 LSU more than 17 points below its average of 41.4.

He and Wallace both were targets of criticism following the Rebels’ 41-38 loss to then-No. 9 Texas A&M last week even though Wallace threw three touchdown passes and only one interception.

Against LSU, Wallace had no touchdown throws but also no turnovers and completed 30-of-39 passes for 346 yards.

It’s the signature win for two men, young and not so young, who are cuffed together for better or worse through the beginning of this new era of Ole Miss football.

In exceeding expectations with a 3-5 SEC mark in their debut season a year ago, Ole Miss defeated Auburn, Arkansas and Mississippi State, teams with lesser profiles. MSU came into that game ranked No. 24, but the Bulldogs were well into the struggle that marked the end of their 2012 season.

Now, adding another chapter in a storied SEC rivalry where outcomes are often close, Freeze has that win that stamps the Rebels as a program on the rise.

At the same time, Wallace stamped himself as a quarterback who can make the biggest plays and protect the football in the biggest games.

He passed for 310 yards and two touchdowns at LSU last year. The signature win might have come then had Wallace, playing with an ailing shoulder, not been intercepted three times.

Freeze needed a quarterback, and Wallace needed a home when they decided to pool their resources at Ole Miss for the 2012 season.

It was an important pick-up for Freeze. Wallace’s decision-making was called into question throughout his debut season, but through seven games as a junior he’s drastically reduced his interceptions.

To get the the most from the win over LSU, the Rebels must add to it and recapture a season that had threatened to run aground after three straight losses.

Though the more difficult part of the schedule is in the rearview mirror, a strong finish should not be taken for granted due to the wounded state of the defense.

That much is true, but it’s certainly not a wounded emotional state for Ole Miss as the Rebels get back to work this week.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at insideolemisssports.com.