NASHVILLE – Bo Wallace’s decisions have come under fire from time to time, but Ole Miss is 1-0 right now, because Wallace made his best decision of the night at just the right time.
He handed the ball to Jeff Scott.
Scott’s 75-yard touchdown run was the biggest play in a second half filled with big plays as the Rebels rallied in the final 67 seconds to defeat Vanderbilt 39-35 in the season opener late Thursday, ESPN’s first prime time TV game of the year.
Ole Miss was able to answer two big plays from Vanderbilt – a 42-yard completion from Austyn Carta-Samuels to Jordan Matthews on fourth-and-18 and Samuels’ 34-yard touchdown pass to wide open tight end Steve Scheu – to keep from having to swallow a second-straight final-seconds loss to the Commodores.
It was the Rebels’ first win in the series since 2009.
“I knew we had to make something happen,” Scott said. “Donte set the corner, and I stayed in bounds and made a move.”
Scott also stayed upright at the 20 after Vanderbilt cornerback Andre Hal dove at his heels and could have stopped the play there.
Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner said the Rebels were just looking for positive yardage, but head coach Hugh Freeze said he saw something in Vanderbilt’s coverage of the previous play, an incomplete pass by Wallace, that made him think the Commodores would be vulnerable to Scott on the outside.
“I saw what they did on the first play, and I knew we could get off a good run play,” Freeze said.
The run game had been inconsistent prior to Scott’s dash to victory. Without the big play, Scott had 63 yards on the night.
While the Rebels were successful in the red zone with Wallace and backup quarterback Barry Brunetti each scoring twice on short touchdown runs, they never marched downfield tacking big gains on top of one another in the run game.
It was Wallace through the air with freshman Laquon Treadwell as his primary target that helped revive a stagnant first-half offense.
Wallace finished 31-for-47 for 283 yards with no turnovers, and Treadwell had nine catches for 82 yards.
It was an impressive debut for Freeze’s top 10 signing class with multiple freshmen figuring into things in a big way.
Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche had two tackles, a tackle for loss and was a pass-rush presence but will be remembered for his 11-yard run on a fake punt to help the Rebels keep possession in the first half.
Tight end Evan Engram showed his athleticism with five catches for 61 yards.
Defensive back Tony Conner had three tackles and an interception, and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil set key blocks during his extensive playing time.
Now the Rebels can catch their breath, correct mistakes and evaluate other players in practice leading into next Saturday’s home opener against a Southeast Missouri State team that lost 45-7 to Southeastern Louisiana Thursday night.
“I’ll give credit to our young guys. We were wounded, and they stepped up and competed for us,” Freeze said. “We have a lot to fix, but fortunately we get to make those fixes at 1-0.”
Freeze can thank Jeff Scott for that.
Scott, in turn, can thank Wallace for making the right call.
“All we needed was field goal range, so I was thinking protect the football and don’t make a dumb decision. I was about this close to keeping that ball,” said Wallace, provided a visual aid with his fingers. “I’m definitely happy that I handed it off.”