AUSTIN, Texas -- For as well dressed and sophisticated as those that make up The Grove appear, they were probably ready to smash fine china and hurl hors d’oeuvres after the season Ole Miss had in 2011.
The Rebels went 2-10 and ended the season winless in their final seven games, signaling the end of Houston Nutt’s time in Oxford, Miss.
With two wins in their first two games of 2012 it appears that order has been restored throughout those famous tailgaiting grounds. Much of that has to do with the new system under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze and the dual-threat capabilities of junior college transfer quarterback Bo Wallace.
The 6-foot-4, 204-pounder has stabilized an unsure quarterback position coming out of fall camp and given life to a passing game that was one of the worst in the nation a season ago.
He is 35-of-46 for 438 yards, including touchdown passes of 53, 25, 55, 51 and 3 yards already. He has also rushed 24 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Wallace is on pace to throw for 2,628 yards, which would far exceed the 1,820 yards Ole Miss had in 2011.
Wallace has completed 76.1 percent of his passes (Ole Miss completed just 49.4 percent in 2011), is averaging 9.5 yards per completion (5.8 in 2011) and has a passer efficiency rating of 187.6 as opposed to the 99.5 the Rebels attained a season ago. All three of those 2011 statistics were among the 10 worst in the FBS.
“You can watch on tape what he's doing when he carries himself,” Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “He can make bad plays, good plays for them. What he's also doing is he's not making bad plays disasters.”
The Longhorns know full well that if they want to win their 14th straight road game in September they are going to have to contain a quarterback that once flirted with the idea of transferring to Texas.
“I think it's exciting. I'm up for the challenge,” senior safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “I mean, it puts stress on the defense to have a dual-threat quarterback. We've got to load the box and bring people out. So it will be a good challenge for us and a good ballgame.”
There’s only a small sample size to go on of Wallace’s capabilities against non-junior college competition, and it came against Central Arkansas and UTEP. But he’s put up admirable numbers throughout his career.
He led East Mississippi to a 12-0 season and the NJCAA national championship last season while setting NJCAA single-season records for passing yards (4,604), total yards (4,810) and touchdown passes.
And his running abilities have made Ole Miss’ read-option ways turn like a well-oiled wheel. The Rebels’ 283.5 rushing yards per game is tops in the SEC whereas, last year, they were 11th.
“Well, if you're going against a team with a Vince Young type offense, you know you have to take into account that the quarterback's going to run,” junior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “So you have to be able to contain him and make sure he doesn't get out of the pocket. So that is a big challenge for us.
“We have to make sure we don't have overhang plays and guys playing with their responsibilities. So in a sense, it's similar to the triple option. You have to be disciplined. You have to make sure you play your play.”
Texas shut down the triple option against New Mexico but the Lobos showed absolutely no threat to throw the ball. There’s that threat to throw with Wallace, and run, which is similar to what Texas faced in Wyoming’s Brett Smith, who exploited the Longhorns early.
Those big plays, including an 82-yard touchdown pass, came from what Texas coaches have described as a lapse in communication from Longhorns linebackers and secondary.
Wallace will test those lines of communication early and often. It’ll be up to Texas to make sure it is getting good reception.