Who deserves most blame in Ole Miss upset at LSU: Coach Hugh Freeze or QB Bo Wallace?

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Who deserves most blame in Ole Miss upset at LSU: Coach Hugh Freeze or QB Bo Wallace?
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BATON ROUGE, La. – The kicker was ready.

With chaos around him and all kinds of noise drowning him, Ole Miss' Gary Wunderlich belted practice kick after practice kick into the net on his team's sideline as time seeped away. Long snapper Will Few hustled over to him with less than a minute to go in a three-point game against LSU, pointing to his own eyes and then at Wunderlich. It was almost time. Few doubled back. The kicker nodded and jogged toward the bench and onto the field.

Moments later, he jogged off.

In what may haunt Rebels fans for weeks and even years, Mississippi head coach Hugh Freeze made a staggering error against LSU that could cost his team a shot at the first college football playoff. He pulled Wunderlich off the field and put his struggling quarterback, Bo Wallace, back onto it with nine seconds left in a 10-7 game. Wallace threw an interception and then grimaced as he watched the replay on the big screen in the corner of a deafening stadium. Then he jogged into the locker room with two seconds still on the clock.

The decision came after another mind-numbing miscalculation from the third-ranked Rebels: a delay-of-game penalty that pushed them back to what would have been about a 47-yard field-goal attempt. That kick would have sent the game into overtime. It never happened. 

Freeze's explanation was somewhere between perplexing and perturbing.

"After the penalty," he explained, "it pushed it back to a 48-yarder from the right hash which is not his favorite deal. With nine seconds on the clock, I thought we could sprint out and either take the flat throw right now or throw it out of bounds. Still worst case, we would be at the same point."

No, sorry. Worst case, the pass would be picked off or the clock would run out.

Freeze slid blame onto his quarterback.

"I think Bo would tell you," he said. "I thought we were pretty clear. We were either going to take the flat throw or throw it out of bounds and try the field goal. Must have felt like he had a shot at the touchdown there with the clear out guy. Wish I could do that over for sure."

He may not get a do-over. There's plenty of season left, including next week's game against Auburn and the Egg Bowl in Oxford next month against No. 1 Mississippi State, but Freeze asked his quarterback to do something next to impossible when he had a kicker who was ready to do something quite possible.

"I wanted 'em to go for it," said LSU cornerback Jalen Collins, almost gleefully. He felt his team had jolted Wallace mentally. The Ole Miss passer was only 14-of-33 passing for 176 yards.

"I felt like we were getting in his head," Collins said. "In the second quarter, getting those [personal foul] penalties, that's when I saw it. He was rattled."

Freeze seemed rattled as well, at least in the crucial moment. This was on him, even if he didn't truly believe it, and he should have owned it more.

Meanwhile, across the field, a coach known for making all kinds of wrong decisions late in games was a rock. Les Miles lost his mother, Martha, on Friday night and told his team in what everyone described as a heart-wrenching meeting.

"My respect level for him went through the ceiling," said defensive end Jermauria Rasco. "If that had happened to me, I would have went home. The room got real emotional."

Miles fought hard to control his feelings, telling reporters after the game that he wanted his players to "see me as an aggressive man."

Perhaps more important, his players saw him as a grieving man.

"I thought about my own mother," said freshman running back Leonard Fournette. "What would I do without her? That's a real man right there."

After the win, which was cinched with a long run-heavy, fourth-quarter drive that would have made Miles' hero Bo Schembechler proud, the players gave their coach the game ball. They had dedicated the victory to his mom.

"Martha Miles, this was a great night, considering," Miles said in the media room, clutching the ball and looking up at the ceiling. "Miss you, Mom."

LSU's Les Miles paid a heartfelt tribute to his mother. (Getty Images)
LSU's Les Miles paid a heartfelt tribute to his mother. (Getty Images)

The Tigers bumbled through plenty of mistakes throughout the game, whether by giving Ole Miss the ball on turnovers (four) or by letting sure interceptions drop. The game should not have been as close as it was. But when it came time for the fourth quarter, there was one team that looked prepared and one team that did not. There was one coach who looked like he'd been in these types of games and one coach who hadn't. LSU is actually above .500 under Miles when trailing in the fourth quarter – not an easy feat for any coach.

Wallace was quite upset after the game, saying he didn't want to talk about the last play in what could be interpreted as anger but was much more likely heartfelt frustration. He exchanged words during the game not only with LSU players, but also with a few fans who barked at Wallace while he was on the Ole Miss sideline.

Miles diplomatically said the noise in the stadium was "nerve wracking to a quarterback," and "doesn't allow them to just have easy plays – every play is under duress and warped."

That's the right word for it: warped. Freeze and Wallace, both heroes in Oxford but both inexperienced in this kind of situation, were warped by the crowd, the energy, the enormity of a moment in a place that causes pretty much every visiting team to wilt. This is the place, as Miles has said, "where opponents' dreams come to die."

"I just think we didn't make the plays when we had to," Wallace said. "It's a crazy atmosphere. This is the craziest place I've played. Actually [the noise] did factor."

It was an emotional night for both teams. But on one side the emotions were a bond and on the other side the emotions gave way to a breakdown.

The question now is how long this night will linger for Ole Miss, and how much it will cost.