COLUMN: Looking Forward

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – My soon-to-be two-year-old daughter, Gracie, attended her first sporting event, Ole Miss – Vanderbilt, on Saturday.

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She was asleep before kickoff.

But boring isn’t so bad if you’re an Ole Miss fan. Boring, at least Saturday at LP Field, meant the game was well in hand; that the Rebels were dominating a Vanderbilt team that is but a shell of its former bowl-eligible self.

Because Ole Miss’ season-opening win over Boise State was too eventful. Rebel fans didn’t know quite how to feel after the 35-13 win, though the most vocal of the group, if message boards are any indication, were up in arms following an uninspiring offensive effort. Ole Miss held a 7-6 lead in the fourth quarter of that game. Bo Wallace had thrown three interceptions.

Fortunately, Ole Miss found itself in the final frame, delivering with 28 points.

Vanderbilt was much cleaner – a 41-3 blowout. Ole Miss controlled the game from the coin toss. Literally, the coin toss. The Rebels won and opted to receive. The offense followed with a 75-yard touchdown march, capped by a 20-yard run by Jalen Walton. They proceeded to score 20 first-half points in a laugher. They never punted. Not once.

Senior cornerback Cliff’s Coleman’s 39-yard interception returned for a touchdown early in the third quarter was icing on the cake.

“With the exception of the first half last week, I’m very, very pleased,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “We’ve moved on from that. Really pleased at this point. The environments were a little different. I thought we handled it well and executed decently, for the most part. So, I’m pleased to this point.”

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace.

Ole Miss not only needed an easy win, but a win in which Wallace made good decisions, the defense built off its stellar debut, Andrew Fletcher finally attempted a field goal or two, the offensive line worked through its issues and the running game got going.

On and on and on. And check and check and check.

Wallace was, in a word, bad in the first half against Boise State, totaling 148 yards on 13 of 22 passing, with one touchdown to three interceptions. However, in his last six quarters, he's 35-44 for 559 yards, four touchdowns and ZERO interceptions, including a final line of 23 of 30 for 320 yards and one touchdown in today's win.

He was smart and efficient leading a Rebel offense that bullied Vanderbilt drive after drive. He spread the ball around to seven different receivers, checked down when he needed to and threw the ball away when there wasn't a play to be made. His performance earned him some time off, too, Wallace giving way to backups Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan midway through the third quarter.

Wallace went over 300 yards for the ninth time in his career. He’s one shy of tying Eli Manning’s school record.

“That’s the big thing we talked about at halftime, coming out and making a statement and finishing the game,” Wallace said. “A lot of times when we were young we’d come out and lull and let them hang around. We had to come out and put our foot on their throat.”

Ole Miss has two games and a bye week before it hosts Alabama Oct. 4. If the Rebels are 4-0 – and let’s be honest, they will be, though next week vs. Louisiana-Lafayette will be tricky – when the Tide rolls into town, it’s likely the stage will be set for one of the most significant early-season games in school history.

There stands a good chance ESPN will finally make its long-awaited visit to the Grove for College GameDay. The atmosphere will be electric, the tents and sundresses and chandeliers and overwhelming aroma of whiskey out in full force.

Even more, Ole Miss will be hosting a team it’s been historically bad against. Alabama holds a 47-9-2 record in the series dating back to 1894. The Rebels’ last win was in the memorable, Eli-led 2003 season – the same year Ole Miss fell just short to LSU at home with Atlanta on the line.

Now, Alabama won’t be as significant as that game was. Not this early in the season. But the Rebels will likely find themselves in the top-10. The No. 2 Crimson Tide hosts Southern Miss and Florida before a bye week. The Gators are considered by many as contenders in the SEC East, their thrashing of Eastern Michigan today representing further proof.

“We feel good about today,” Wallace said. “Anytime you can win by the margin we did in this league, you had a pretty good day.”

Ole Miss is off to a perfect start in 2014. And who knows, after Alabama, it could approach historic.

That’ll be a game worth staying up for, Gracie.

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