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In Defense of Bo Wallace

After the Egg Bowl loss, several fans have been calling Bo Wallace's ability into question. He played poorly in the loss, but it's important to keep things in perspective.

Scott Halleran

Bo Wallace had the worst game of his career against Mississippi State, more-or-less single-handedly (LIKE HE CARRIED THE FINAL FUMBLE RIGHT GUYS?!) losing the game by coughing up four turnovers en route to a 17-10 overtime loss in Starkville. We Rebel fans can, rightfully, largely attribute the loss to his play. That isn't to say that there isn't plenty of blame to be passed around, because there is, but it is to say that poor quarterback play cost the Rebels plenty of points.

A lot of Rebel fans would agree with this, with many of them going so far as to suggest that Bo Wallace should no longer be the Ole Miss quarterback, and that redshirt freshman Devante Kincade should take over those duties next season. Virtually every message board and comments thread - even those here on the Cup - have been littered with this idea. I find this to be frustratingly simple and shortsighted.

I think there are generally two lines of thought that have started to frustrate me a little bit, and I wanted to dive into them a little bit. This article is titled "In Defense of Bo Wallace" but only because that's the most appropriate title I could think of. I don't necessarily consider this a defense. I do think, however, that a lot of criticism against Bo Wallace is hastily thought up and emotionally charged.

The two lines of thought that frustrate me are:

  1. Bo Wallace is a bad quarterback
  2. Bo Wallace is likely to be passed on the depth chart by Devante Kincade, a quarterback who has never played a snap of college football.

Now before I address these arguments, let me say that Bo Wallace isn't the best quarterback in the SEC, and no one is arguing that. However, looking at his SEC-only stats (against maybe the toughest SEC schedule) illuminates some of his successes and failures. I think it is helpful to look at where he stacks up statistically.

First, the good side of Bo Wallace.

Wallace is second in the SEC in passing yards per game in SEC play with 283.4 per game. That's nearly thirty more yards than the third place competitor, Aaron Murray. He's also second in total yards with 300. All this comes with an offensive line that consistently allows pressure to Wallace, ranking eleventh in the SEC in sacks allowed with 21 in conference games. This means he's running around for his life out there and is still able to produce. It also means he is able to get off quick passes when he needs to.

Wallace has proven productive on third down, helping Ole Miss convert on 42.5% of its third downs, placing them fifth in the conference (behind four other SEC West foes interestingly enough). Many times this year, Wallace would need ten and get eleven. At times he's really great to watch in this regard. There were crucial first downs he converted in games against LSU this season and Arkansas last season that, had he not made them, it would have been tough or even impossible for the Rebels to win.

So Bo's a good enough passer who has proven able to make important plays under pressure. This is not anywhere close to me saying that he doesn't make mistakes or that he does not have bad games. This is simply me looking at where he has succeeded and giving him due credit.

Then there's the not-so-good.

Wallace's overall pass efficiency ranking is 127.1 in SEC games. That ranks him ninth in the conference and fifth in the division. The only notable name behind him is Dak Prescott. (And, surprisingly, Nick Marshall ranks ahead of Wallace in efficiency.) Against SEC foes, Wallace tied with Brandon Allen for second place in interceptions thrown with nine while ranking eighth in passing touchdowns with just nine as well. To find success in the future, those numbers can't be equal.

Now, pass efficiency is a fun statistic that tries to evaluate quarterbacks on more than just their offensive output. That being said, it has its flaws. Particularly, since it factors in yards per attempt as a major component, a player like Wallace, who is asked to dump it off all the time, suffers. It also doesn't look at the rest of the talent around the quarterback (of course). Suffice it to say, it's a good barometer of ability when all things are equal, and is something to look at, but it isn't the end-all.

Again, I know that Bo Wallace didn't play well against Mississippi State. I'm sure that he would agree. That being said, let's remember a few games this season where he did play well: Texas, LSU, and Arkansas.

Facing a Texas team that turned out to be pretty good in spite of its inconsistencies, Wallace completed 68% of his attempts with two touchdowns. He also picked up 57 yards on the ground and another touchdown. Against LSU, Bo Wallace threw for 346 yards completing 76% of his passes. Seventy. Six. Percent. He was excellent and led a game-winning drive that was fantastic. It was a drive that many Rebel fans to rewatched over and over again because of just how improbable all of the third down conversions in it were. Then, against Arkansas, Wallace completed 79% of his passes for 416 yards and three touchdowns. All this to say, the premise of recency (that we remember what is most recent better than things before it) makes it easy to call him a bad quarterback. When you think about his overall body of work, that argument falls apart.

Then there's the Devante Kincade Factor. This, to me, is the most fascinating part of the argument against Wallace. Since Devante Kincade was a four-star and had several good offers, he must be very good as a freshman who is currently being redshirted. At least, that's the line of thinking that the "PUT KINCADE IN" crowd must espouse to legitimately make their arguments. Yes, the coaches have talked him up (the same coaches who talked up the entire defensive line in the Summer). He did really well on a test of his mental prowess at the Elite 11. He ran a spread option very effectively in high school. Surely he's the answer to whatever you may perceive as our quarterback problems, right?

I'm thinking not. I have plenty of hope that Devante Kincade is good. If he's magically better than Bo Wallace next season, then sure... he should play. I just don't expect that.

I'm personally of the belief that Wallace's SEC statistics were relatively pedestrian because of the pressure opposing teams could get while just sending four defensive players. Our banged up offensive line did not really do Wallace any favors, and opposing defensive coordinators knew that it wouldn't. If you've got seven defenders free to cover 3-5 offensive players, it's going to be hard for the offense to produce much when they're still having to get the ball away relatively quickly. That resulted in quick throws to the flats that often didn't yield much in terms of yards. Too often, Wallace was forced into making incredibly quick decisions of where to throw the ball downfield because he simply had to do so. When the defense knows they can get pressure without blitzing, the quarterback's job is very difficult.

If Wallace gets better protection on the offensive line next season (please be good again, Aaron Morris), then I think Ole Miss fans will be very happy with the results. Protection up front coupled with experienced receivers should do wonders for the Rebel offense. If it does not then, well, bring on Devante Kincade and see what happens.