HOOVER, Ala. — When Bo Wallace caught a glimpse of himself on film from Ole Miss’ bowl game, the Rebels quarterback saw something that needed an immediate change before the 2014 season.
Wallace threw one interception against Georgia Tech in the bowl game, but he was otherwise solid in the Rebels’ 25-17 win.
No, it wasn't necessarily his performance. Instead, Wallace bristled at the shoulder-length hair peaking out of his helmet. During the offseason, he visited the only person he’ll let cut his hair — a woman in Nashville — and trimmed it to a more presentable shagginess.
“This is as long as it’ll get,” Wallace said from SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. “I want to take a more professional approach to my senior year.”
Part of that professional approach entering his final season is proving that Ole Miss hasn’t seen Wallace at his best. Certainly not since the end of last season.
The postseason was a bit of redemption after his disastrous performance in the Egg Bowl, but Wallace talks as if he knows winning a Music City Bowl isn’t going to make anyone forget that he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in a 17-10 loss at Mississippi State.
The loss put a damper on a season in which Ole Miss otherwise exceeded expectations. The Rebels navigated a tough schedule to start the season with road wins over Vanderbilt and Texas and a home victory over LSU. The only losses during a 7-3 start were to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M.
Game 11, though, is when Wallace’s arm — and confidence — started to fail him.
“I think about it every day,” Wallace said of his flop against Mississippi State. “I work every day to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I don’t think it will.”
Beyond the hair, Wallace says he’s undergone a “complete overhaul” of his throwing mechanics during the offseason. He worked with Tom House, a former major league pitcher who works with quarterbacks and pitchers on mechanics.
The problems that culminated in three interceptions in the Egg Bowl started in the fourth game of 2012 against Tulane when he sustained a shoulder injury. Wallace finished out the season, but he threw 17 interceptions. Offseason shoulder surgery helped, but only for a time.
Wallace’s 2013 season started in fine form, he threw 17 touchdown passes to five interceptions during the first 10 games. He doubled his interceptions in the last three.
Here’s a look at how he started and how Wallace played in losses to Mississippi State and Missouri.
Wallace had worn down during the second half of the season, and he knew his arm wasn’t there. For a quarterback who had the reputation of a gunslinger in junior college, this was tough to swallow. The quarterback who averaged 9.2 yards per attempt in JUCO averaged 5.2 in two losses. He still tried to play like he had a big arm, leading to questionable decisions.
“You see that throw down the field and know you can make a big play on it, but you don’t want to try it because you might underthrow it and get picked,” Wallace said.
After working with House, Wallace said he’s able to get more velocity on the ball. In an ideal throwing motion, Wallace’s hips come first and the shoulder creates the torque. After his injury, his hips and shoulder were in sync, and he couldn’t get any torque on the throw.
That, presumably, has changed. Wallace says he’ll be able to stretch the field, something that hasn’t been part of his game for stretches of the last two games.
In year during a changing of the guard at quarterback in the SEC, Wallace could quickly move to or near the top of the pack
“He's just been overshadowed by some really good players,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “The guy has a chance to own every passing record in Ole Miss history before he leaves there.”
The latter may be a stretch. Wallace will have trouble catching Eli Manning in a few areas — Wallace is 41 career touchdowns short of Manning. But Wallace needs 3,779 passing yards to catch Manning’s career total. If Wallace hits that, he’ll also eclipse Manning’s single-season record of 3,600 yards.
If Wallace’s shoulder holds up, those kinds of marks may be attainable.
“He feels finally healthy and confident,” Freeze said. “I really think he's at a point where he certainly has every avenue right now to step in and be one of the guys in this conference.”