By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – What we’re seeing in Ole Miss sophomore Bo Wallace right now is what you hope to see from a quarterback who is experiencing the big stage for the first time.
Arkansas State, with whom Wallace signed after high school in Pulaski, Tenn., is an FBS school, but it would be a stretch to call it the big stage.
Though Wallace was the biggest fish, the pond was much smaller at East Mississippi Community College last year.
At times early on it’s been like death by paper cut as Ole Miss tries to find the stability it’s often lacked under center. Wallace had a couple of off-season incidents, neither major by today’s standards but both enough to show questionable judgment. Then his coach, Hugh Freeze, called him on the carpet for sub-standard mental preparation prior to the Tulane game. Freeze has often described Wallace as “all boy.”
The first seven games of his SEC career have been not the course one might have mapped out upon his signing, but they’ve been predictable.
After facing an FCS opponent and Conference USA foe, Wallace had thrown five touchdowns with just one interception. A fast start. He gained confidence. Perhaps too much confidence.
When the defenses became faster – Texas and Alabama – his decisions remained the same, and the picks became more numerous.
Prior to Auburn, Wallace went through a four-game stretch with five interceptions to three touchdowns passes. That’s not a winning ratio.
Against Tulane, when it wasn’t interceptions, it was two fumbles.
His sketchy performance had his starting job in question. Freeze re-opened the competition with backup Barry Brunetti going into the Texas Aamp&M game.
Wallace responded by going 20-for-34 for 305 yards and two touchdowns, but he didn’t completely rid himself of the bad decisions. His interception on the Rebels’ last offensive play cost Ole Miss a chance to tie and force overtime or perhaps win in regulation.
For Wallace, it all clicked against Auburn with a turnover-free game.
The biggest example of Wallace’s growth came with the Rebels in the red zone near the end of the first half. As pressure mounted around him in the pocket, he didn’t get greedy and fling it to the end zone. He threw it out of bounds.
The Rebels didn’t get the touchdown they wanted to re-take the lead, but they got a field goal to end a string of 17 unanswered points by Auburn and go to the half at least on even footing.
“I don’t think I’d have done that three games ago. I think I’d have tried to make a play, and something bad could have happened. It’s definitely growth,” Wallace said.
And with bowl hopes on the table, the growth comes not a moment too soon.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) blogs daily for the Daily Journal at InsideOleMissSports.com.