Because trust is earned and not awarded, it’s often doled out in increments.
There was water under the bridge already for Bo Wallace, some of it, when he took the field in Little Rock for his ninth game as the Ole Miss starting quarterback in 2012.
There had been mixed success, and the Rebels had broken an embarrassing SEC losing streak of 16 games the week before.
Arkansas was not the top 10 team it had hoped to become, but for an Ole Miss team to which winning was still pretty new, much less winning on the SEC road, that didn’t matter.
So when Wallace looked his teammates in the eye with 2 minutes, 9 seconds left in a game tied at 27 and said, “We will win,” it was a watershed moment for a program trying to step forward along a journey to relevance.
“That was the most confidence-building thing I’d been a part of,” said offensive lineman Emmanuel McCray, now a fifth-year senior.
Quarterbacks are branded in many ways, perhaps none more coveted than to be called “clutch.”
At the NFL level some develop that reputation by rallying their teams to late wins over a period of years. There’s less time for college quarterbacks, who may only be the starter for two or three seasons, to roll up a lot of impressive comebacks.
Wallace led a game-winning drive against LSU earlier this season. It’s possible he’d have led one the week before against Texas A&M if not for a drop by teammate Ja-Mes Logan on a second-down pass. Wallace threw incomplete on the other two downs.
The LSU game was a signature win for Wallace and Freeze and has helped the Rebels to a 5-3 mark with the opportunity to do something about bowl eligibility this Saturday against Arkansas, far earlier than last season when Ole Miss didn’t lock up a bowl bid until the last regular season game.
With four games remaining, three at home, Ole Miss can become bowl eligible not just barely but with a chance to blow way past Birmingham in the postseason pecking order.
Eight games into Freeze and Wallace 2.0, growth is evident, and the win in Little Rock was critical for the team’s growing self-confidence.
Wallace was 4-for-5 on the eight-play, 61-yard drive that ended with a 31-yard field goal from Bryson Rose on the game’s last play.
Just before Rose’s kick, Wallace rushed for 13 yards to the Arkansas 14.
“I told them, ‘We’re going to walk down, and we’re going to kick a field goal right here,’” Wallace recalled. “I think that was a moment where they could see that they could follow me. It was a big-time moment in maturing and becoming a better leader.”
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Djournal.com.