Mississippi 49, Cent. Arkansas 27
OXFORD, Miss. (AP)
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior college transfer was nearly flawless in first-year coach Hugh Freeze's offense, completing 20 of 24 passes, though he did have one interception. Wallace also rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown.
Despite the comfortable final margin, the game wasn't easy for the Rebels, who came into the season on a seven-game losing streak. Central Arkansas led 20-14 at halftime before Ole Miss scored 35 unanswered points in the second half.
Donte Moncrief led Ole Miss with eight receptions for 104 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown catch from Wallace in the third quarter that pushed the Rebels' lead to 28-20.
Freeze came to Ole Miss promising a wide-open, up-tempo offense and the Rebels delivered early on a muggy night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Wallace completed his first two passes and then rushed for a 25-yard touchdown on the first drive to give Ole Miss an early 7-0 lead.
But offense wasn't the problem for the Rebels in the first half. Defense was.
Central Arkansas, which plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level, moved the ball with stunning ease on the ground and in the air early in the game. Smothers - making just his second career start - completed 11 of 13 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and the Bears outgained the Rebels 237-231.
The difficult game brought back memories of one of the biggest disasters in Ole Miss football history - a 49-48 double overtime loss to Jacksonville State in 2010. That was the first loss to an FCS team in program history.
Thanks largely to Wallace, it's still the only one.
Wallace led the Rebels on touchdown drives of 74 and 75 yards in the third quarter to push Ole Miss ahead 28-20. The second touchdown was the 53-yard pass that hit Moncrief in stride - and the Rebels hope that connection will be announced often this season.
Wallace and junior Barry Brunetti entered the game in a tight, two-man quarterback race. Brunetti wasn't bad, completing 5 of 7 passes for 66 yards and a touchdown, but Wallace's quick throwing release and accuracy looked perfectly suited for Freeze's methodical passing offense.
Ole Miss finished with 565 total yards, including 330 through the air and 235 on the ground.
But the Rebels' defense wasn't nearly as impressive.
Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche led the team with eight tackles, including three for a loss. Ole Miss had nine tackles for a loss as a team, but those big plays were offset by several blown coverages and missed tackles.
The Rebels won their season opener for the first time since 2009.
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