December 31, 2013 10:33:07 AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There is an ancient Irish proverb that says, "The darkest hour is just before the dawn."
For Ole Miss and junior quarterback Bo Wallace, that darkest hour was on Thanksgiving night in Starkville in the Battle for the Golden Egg against Mississippi State. Wallace's fumble as he was nearing the goal line for a touchdown that could have helped tie the game in overtime sealed a 17-10 win for the Bulldogs. As a result, Wallace became the target of intense criticism by Ole Miss fans and the target of numerous practical jokes by MSU fans on social media, as "Wallacing" became a popular with Bulldog fans.
The hour was about as dark as it could be at that point for Wallace and the Rebels. Thankfully for Wallace and his teammates, the dawn came in the form of an opportunity -- the Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl -- to wipe away some of the bitterness and disappointment of the Egg Bowl. Wallace and the Rebels took advantage of the second chance Monday, defeating Georgia Tech Yellow 25-17 before an announced crowd of 52,125 at LP Field.
The win was especially sweet for Ole Miss and Wallace. It allowed Wallace, who grew up in Pulaski, Tenn., to atone for the game against MSU, close to where he grew up and on the field where he watched to Tennessee Titans games as a kid. Wallace played a near flawless game, completing 22 of 32 passes for 256 yards. He threw for a touchdown and had one interception. He also had 13 carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns. For his efforts, Wallace was named MVP of the game.
"Bo has played fairly well all season for the most part," Ole Miss coach Bo Wallace said. "He has had a couple of games where he wasn't at his best, but everybody has a bad day at the office every once in a while, especially if you have outside circumstances involved."
Wallace played the last two games of the season with flu-like symptoms with very little practice.
"I have said before and I will say again, Bo and other quarterbacks in this (SEC) league receive too much criticism sometimes. Bo has not complained about anything or made any excuses and has consistently took responsibility for his play, and you can't ask for anymore than that from a young man."
When asked if he felt vindicated and had a sense of satisfaction after playing well in his first game after the loss to MSU, Wallace said, "I knew going into this game I needed to have a good one, but, at the same time, I was telling myself not to try and make too many plays, as I do that sometimes, and just trust my offensive line and try to get the ball to our receivers and let them do what they do when they get the ball, which is make plays."
Wallace rushed for his first touchdown on the Rebels' opening drive, which went 75 yards in 15 plays. He finished the drive with a run on the zone read play that was similar to the play he fumbled against MSU.
Ole Miss took advantage of good field position as a result of a short punt and a 15-yard return by senior Jordan Holder to put the Rebels in business at the Georgia Tech 38-yard line. Three plays later, Wallace threw a 28-yard strike to Donte Moncrief, who made a diving leap into the end zone for the touchdown to give Ole Miss a 13-7 advantage after the kick was blocked.
The Rebels defense, which held Georgia Tech to 151 yards rushing on 49 attempts, set up the team's last touchdown in the third quarter by recovering a fumble by quarterback Vad Lee at the Tech 44.
Wallace capped a five-play, 44-yard drive with a 10-yard run on a zone read. The kick pushed the lead to 20-7.
After Georgia Tech capitalized on an interception of Wallace and cut the deficit to 23-17, Wallace helped turn the momentum. On the Rebels' second series following Georgia Tech's last score, Wallace and the Rebels moved 72 yards in 14 plays to the Georgia Tech 4. Wallace rushed three times for 22 yards on the drive and completed three passes for 38 yards. While the Rebels didn't score, the drive flipped the field and pinned the Yellow Jackets deep in their territory. The Rebels defense then forced a fumble the Yellow Jackets recovered in their end zone. The safety accounted for the final margin.
"This win gives our program renewed confidence and excitement as we move into the offseason and will definitely help with recruiting and things like that," Freeze said. "I am very proud of the way our team fought through adversity all season long and dealt with several things, both on and off the field, in the manner in which they did. The effort we gave out there today is a testimony to the character of our team."
"I am very happy to end the season with a win and look forward to having an offseason this year," said Wallace, who spent last year recovering from shoulder surgery. "Winning this game today will hopefully set the tone for the offseason as we get in there (weight room) with coach (Paul) Jackson (strength coach) and his staff to get ready for next year. I can't wait."