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Smelling like a Rose

Bo Wallace wasn’t perfect, but he was perfectly effective.

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace in action Saturday at Little Rock. Photos by Natasha Tucker

Donte Moncrief didn’t find the end zone but he finished with eight catches…a couple coming in the clutch.

Ferbia Allen didn’t catch a pass but a beautiful open-field block on what was ultimately the game-winning drive proved huge. Receivers Vince Sanders and Ja-Mes Logan blocked their butts off, too.

Jeff Scott kept doing what he’s been doing now for the better part of the season, beating defenses to the edge and slipping through cracks at the line of scrimmage.

The offensive line battled…for four full quarters.

Denzel Nkemdiche, Charles Sawyer and C.J. Johnson made defensive plays that altered the course of the game.

The unselfish former quarterback Randall Mackey made plays all day, as a running back, as a receiver and even at the quarterback position. Mackey drew the start at receiver for the first time this season and finished with seven catches for 99 yards.

Barry Brunetti, who has found himself the backup to Wallace after a spirited battle through the spring and into preseason camp, answered the call when the bell rang, scoring the go-ahead touchdown for the Rebels midway through the second quarter .

And when the Ole Miss offense couldn’t quite punch it in, Bryson Rose delivered…three times, including the game-winning field goal as time expired.

On this, the last Saturday in October, the Ole Miss Rebels look like a team that is bowl bound.

After today’s 30-27 win over Arkansas, Ole Miss sits atop an improbable 5-3 record in what was supposed to be a year where hopes were to be confined to moral victories and measurable gains in the effort department. A team that only two weeks ago had not won an SEC game since 2010 is now 2-2 in the toughest conference in America with back-to-back league wins.

Incredible.

“I’m thrilled,” said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze. “Our word for the week in our character traits program was courage. The football team, every facet of it, made a play at some point that really meant a lot to the outcome of the game.”

Ole Miss weathered a 10-0 start by the Razorbacks to answer with three touchdowns in the second quarter to lead at the half 21-17. Though the game would become tied late in the fourth quarter, the Rebels never trailed in the second half.

“For our team to fight, continue to battle, go down 10-0 and come back to take the lead, make good plays and tie it up…We were very poised,” Freeze related. “Bo (Wallace) made some really nice throws and people made nice plays. The PAT/field goal unit put through the winner. The ride home will be really, really sweet.”

The Razorbacks held the final statistical edge in almost every offensive category. Arkansas out-gained Ole Miss 464-355 in total offense, and finished with more passing yards, rushing yards, first downs, snaps and time of possession. In fact, the only offensive category Ole Miss held the edge in was the final score.

Yet the Rebels found a way to win an SEC road game for the first time since 2009.

Arkansas tied the game 27-27 on a 5-yard touchdown run by Dennis Johnson with two minutes and nine seconds remaining in the game. The run was the culmination of a 4-play 55-yard drive that took just 58 seconds for the Razorbacks to slice through the Ole Miss defense.

Ole Miss began the ensuing possession on its own 25-yard line. On first-and-10 Wallace connected with Moncrief for a 12-yard gain to the 37. Three plays later, and facing a third-and nine, Wallace found Jeff Scott for a 14-yard gain to the Arkansas 48.

Wallace then hit Scott for a 9-yard pickup to the Razorback 39 where the Rebels called a timeout with 42 seconds left in the game.

On the very next snap, Mackey took a Wallace pass to the Arkansas 27 for an Ole Miss first down. Wallace then called his own number, gaining 13 yards on a quarterback keeper to the 14-yard line. The Rebels then let the game clock tick down to three seconds before Freeze called a timeout from the sidlines.

Rose, who had already kicked two field goals on the day, including a career-best 53-yarder, trotted on the field. After an Arkansas timeout in an attempt to ice him, Rose nailed his third field goal from 31 yards out as the clock struck zero. The play capped an 8-play, 61-yard drive through the Razorback defense.

Wallace completed 29-of-37 passes for 278 yards and a touchdown. He did throw one interception and was sacked twice. The sophomore slinger compensated for any shortcomings he might have had on the day by marching the Rebels down the field as the final seconds ticked off the game clock and by some Houdini-like escapes as the pocket collapsed around him.

Tyler Wilson, Wallace’s counterpart for Arkansas, played streaky. Wilson flirted time and time again with Rebel defenders before finally getting picked off by Charles Sawyer. The highly-touted Razorback signal caller completed 24-of-43 passes for two touchdowns. He was sacked three times and also called for intentional grounding twice.

“We just had a mixture,” Freeze said of his defense’s plan to temper the Arkansas passer. “Come after him some, but we’re playing all those freshmen, and when you do come after him you’re going to have some one-on-one matchups. Against guys like Cobi Hamilton, you try not to do that a lot. We got some pressure with our front four.”

Said Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemndiche, “It was tough, but I knew we were prepared and we had prepared the right way during the week. Nobody was intimidated. We weren’t scared of the players that they had, we just wanted to do it for each other and bring home the win. (Tyler Wilson) is a great quarterback, so we had to do different things against him.”

Scott led all Ole Miss rushers with 50 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Arkansas’ Johnson rushed for a game-high 161 yards and a score on 27 carries.

Nkemdiche continued his ascension as one of the top up-and-coming linebackers in the SEC with an 8-tackle performance, two pass break-ups and an interception that he returned for 32 yards.

Ole Miss, now 5-3 and 2-2 in the SEC, travels to Athens, Ga., to play the Georgia Bulldogs next Saturday. Television will decide kickoff time, which will either be at 11 a.m. or at 2:30 p.m. An announcement on kickoff time is expected Sunday.

Arkansas dropped to 3-5 and to 2-2 inside the conference. The Razorbacks will host Tulsa next Saturday.

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