Egg Bowl: So many ways to go, including Bo
What follows is my syndicated column that ran in most Mississippi newspapers published on Sundays. There were so many different ways to go with a column about this Egg Bowl. One: The Ole Miss defense, which dominated State at the line of scrimmage, something nobody else has really done this season. Two: Hugh Freeze’s offensive game plan, which featured plenty of razzle-dazzle and seemed to have State’s defense off-balance all night. Three: How this game put an exclamation point on the most memorable football season in the join histories of State and Ole Miss (19 victories, national rankings, cherished bowl bids to come. and so much more). Four: How painful this loss had to be for State, eliminating the Bulldogs for the playoffs.
In the end, I chose to go with the Bo Wallace angle. I got sick to death of the Good Bo-Bad Bo crap. He has started every game for three years as a Rebel through lots of pain and through lots of criticism. No, he’s not perfect, but no quarterback is. As Archie Manning always says: “A quarterback always gets too much blame or too much credit. It’s the nature of the position.” For some reason, Bo always seemed to get more than his share of blame, less than his share of credit. His accomplishments, listed below, are undeniable.
OXFORD — In a game that featured so many Egg Bowl heroes on a Red and Blue Saturday afternoon at Vaught-Hemingway, none stood taller, or more painfully, than Bo Wallace.
Wallace, playing on a sprained right ankle that kept him out of meaningful practice all week long, willed Ole Miss to a 31-17 victory over No. 4 ranked Mississippi State.
Wallace completed just 13 of 30 passes, but those 13 went for a whopping 296 yards. Keep in mind, a right-handed passer’s right foot is his “plant foot.” It’s the one he pushes off to make his throws.
His teammates saw him struggle with it all week long. Still, to a man, they say they never expected anything less.
Take it from Evan Engram the hybrid end, who plays tight end and runs like a wide receiver.
“Everybody in this locker room believes in Bo,” Engram said, afterward. “He played huge. I knew he would. He’s a great leader, he’s our leader. He’s a winner. You could have chopped his ankle off and he would have played tonight.”
If ever a player has embodied his team, he is Wallace. He has played through injuries. So have the Rebels. He has played through criticism on the Internet, in the newspapers and, at times, from his own fans. So have the Rebels. He has played through excruciating, heart-breaking losses and then a blowout last week at Arkansas. So have his teammates.
On the final day of this most memorable of Mississippi football seasons, Wallace and the Rebels persevered and won — if not there biggest victory of the year, one that certainly rivals the fourth quarter rally when Bo, at his finest, helped knock off No. 1 Alabama.
Said Hugh Freeze of his senior quarterback, “I hope this cements his memory here at Ole Miss in a positive light, because he really deserves that.”
Numbers do not always define a quarterback, as witnessed by Wallace’s 13 for 30 on this afternoon. But, just for the moment, consider these numbers: He has led Ole Miss to 24 victories over three seasons, never missing a start. He will have led the Rebels to three bowl games. Win the upcoming bowl, and he will have led Ole Miss to three bowl victories. He has become the Ole Miss career total offense leader, passing the sainted Eli Manning. Saturday, he moved in the top 10 all-time in total offense in the Southeastern Conference.
That’s right: Only nine players in SEC history have accounted for more yardage than Bo. So much for all that Good Bo and Bad Bo stuff. Take everything into consideration — he has been better than good over the long haul. This, from a guy who was scarcely recruited out of high school. This, from a guy who played his first two seasons here with a painful throwing shoulder.
Freeze insisted the joy from Saturday’s victory came not from knocking an arch-rival out of the national playoff picture.
“This was about us, not them,” Freeze said.
So disheartening was a 30-0 loss to Arkansas a week earlier that Freeze admitted he lost sleep that Saturday night trying to decide how to address his squad.
“I didn’t know whether to hug ’em and love on them or kick them in the tail,” Freeze said.
He decided on the latter.
“We did some things Sunday to remind them how important this was,” Freeze said.
Bo Wallace needed no reminder.
He was part of a rousing 41-24 victory over the Bulldogs here two years ago. He was part of an excruciating 17-10 overtime loss to the State at Starkville last year. Wallace was running into the end zone for the tying score in overtime when the ball was stripped away. State recovered for the victory. Fairly or not, Bo was considered the goat.
“There hasn’t been a day, I haven’t thought about it,” Wallace said. “That’s what pushed me the entire season.”
It kept him going through injuries to LaQuon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil. It kept him going Saturday whenVince Sanders went down. It helped him to play though his own ankle injury.
Said Wallace, afterward, “I can’t even put into words how great this feels.”
All things considered, there was no need.
For Hays Collins’ Egg Bowl gallery, click here.