NCF Nation: BBVA Compass Bowl 2012


Thanks to 24-point first half and commanding performance by its defense throughout the afternoon, Ole Miss captured its first bowl victory since 2009 with a 38-17 win over Pittsburgh in front of a sea of red that was a part of a record crowd of 59,135 for the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The SEC improved to 5-3 in bowl games, while the Big East ends bowl play with a 3-2 record.

It was over when: Ole Miss back up quarterback Barry Brunetti pushed forward on a quarterback keeper for a 1-yard touchdown to make it 31-10 Rebels with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Game ball goes to: First-year coach Hugh Freeze. He didn't throw any passes or make any tackles, but he had his players very ready for Saturday's bowl game. This game meant a lot to players and fans, and the Rebels came out fast on offense and hunkered down on defense. After missing out on a bowl game the last two seasons, and winning just six total games during that span, Ole Miss finished the year 7-6 after a major culture overhaul thanks to Freeze's guidance.

Stat of the game: Ole Miss held the rushing advantage over Pittsburgh 222-81.

Stat of the game II: Pittsburgh defenders Jason Hendricks and Shayne Hale combined for 30 tackles and 21 of those tackles were solo.

Best call: All year, Freeze rotated his quarterbacks throughout games. Bo Wallace was always the starter but Brunetti would come in for obvious running plays. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it was a little too obvious, but it certainly worked on Saturday. Wallace finished the game with 151 passing yards and three touchdowns to two interceptions on 22 of 32 passing. He also ran for 27 yards, while Brunetti totaled 34 yards, but helped really open up a running game that finished with 222 yards and 4.6 yards per carry.

Unsung heroes of the game: Running back Jeff Scott left the game early with a hamstring injury, leaving freshman Jaylen Walton to help carry the load. He kept the chains moving for the Rebels, carrying the ball 10 times for 56 yards. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry in the process. Linebacker Mike Marry has been one of the most underrated players in the SEC this year and he had a very productive day. He was all over Pitt's backfield, registering four tackles for loss. He finished the day with seven total tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

What Ole Miss learned: This team brought a lot of fight to Birmingham, Ala. When Scott went down with his hamstring injury, there had to be some concern on that Ole Miss sideline that the Rebels' offense might lose some of its rhythm. It didn't. The Rebels continued to work the ground game with other options and just wore down the Panthers up front. That running game helped open up the passing game and helped the Rebels enter the offseason with a ton of momentum after this win.

What Pitt learned: It had no offense without star senior running back Ray Graham. He had a heck of a career with the Panthers, but a hamstring injury kept him out of the BBVA Compass Bowl, and the Panthers just couldn't replace his production on the field. Pitt ran the ball 36 times for 81 yards, averaging just 2.3 yards per carry. Rushel Shell replaced Graham, rushing for 79 yards on 25 carries. That lack of a running game severely limited the Panthers through the air as well, as quarterback Tino Sunseri passed for just 185 yards.

Pitt keys for BBVA Compass Bowl

January, 5, 2013
1/05/13
9:30
AM ET
Let's take a look at three keys for Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Ole Miss.

1. Steady Tino. Did you hear the one where Tino Sunseri has not thrown an interception since Sept. 15 -- a span of 270 straight passes (along with a change in the calendar year)? Believe it, people. Now, that streak has not exactly meant a perfect season for the Panthers -- they have lost four games since Sept. 15 -- but at least his ability to make better decisions has not meant unmitigated disaster for the Panthers offense. If Pitt wants to win this game, it's going to need another near mistake-free performance: no interceptions, no dumb sacks, no costly decisions. Steady as Tino goes, so go the Panthers.

2. Establish the run. Ole Miss has one of the better run defenses in the country, allowing just 133 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. But for Pitt to win this game, it is going to need to have another good performance from Ray Graham, who is playing his final game for the Panthers. In six wins this season, Graham is averaging 96.3 yards per game with nine touchdown runs. In six losses, that average goes down to 77.3 yards per game with only two touchdown runs. You see the trend.

3. Motivation. One of the most frustrating things about watching Pitt play this season was the way it played down to the level of competition. Lose to Youngstown State and UConn. Get pumped for games against Louisville, Notre Dame and Rutgers -- even though two of those ended in losses. With Pitt playing in this bowl game for a third straight season, what is the motivation going to be for this team? Ole Miss is making its first bowl appearance since 2009. It will have more fans in the stands too, which could give the Rebels an advantage. Pitt also is playing without a defensive coordinator, so you have to wonder whether that will have any impact. The bottom line question: Which Pitt team is going to show up?
Here are three keys for Ole Miss in its matchup with Pittsburgh in Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl (1 p.m. ET, ESPN):

1. Patience is a virtue: Pittsburgh has a pretty sturdy defense. Even with those six losses on the season, the Panthers' defense ranks 17th nationally. The Panthers have allowed just 14 passing plays of 25 yards or more, tied for sixth nationally. That means Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace will have to be patient with his throws. Pittsburgh intercepted 13 passes on the season and allowed just 12 touchdowns through the air, so Wallace can't take a lot of chances with this defense -- and he has taken a lot of chances this season. Wallace has thrown 15 interceptions on the season, so his careless play could really cost the Rebels on Saturday. Pittsburgh is stingy enough that Wallace doesn't need to help it out.

2. Bring the pressure: Ole Miss' defensive line has been a pleasant surprise for the Rebels this season. It was supposed to be a weak point, but it came on in a big way. The Rebels enter the game second in the SEC in sacks (34) and tackles for loss (92). The Panthers have struggled this season in pass protection, so if this Ole Miss line can play like it has for most of the year, Pittsburgh could be in trouble. Quarterback Tino Sunseri has been pretty efficient this season, throwing for 3,103 yards with 19 touchdowns to two interceptions. He hasn't thrown a pick since Sept. 15, so the Rebels have to put him in awkward situations in order to force him to finally make some mistakes. The defense has been better compared to last season, but it showed it isn't built for a shootout. Pitt hasn't really been involved in any, but if the Rebels can't get good pressure on Sunseri, one might break out anyway.

3. Run, run and run some more: The Panthers have held their own for the most part on defense, but if the Rebels are going to be successful for 60 minutes, they have to get a solid run game going. Ole Miss averages 169.7 rushing yards per game, while Pitt is surrendering just 129.1. That's good enough for 25th nationally, so the Rebels have to establish a running game to open things up for Wallace and the passing game. Running back Jeff Scott has to be a big factor. He's the Rebels' best rushing weapon, and while he isn't the biggest thing out there, he can turn regular runs into big plays with his speed and elusiveness. He'll have help with Wallace and with athlete Randall Mackey, who will line up in the backfield as well, but Ole Miss has to be patient. Running the ball effectively will be key to wearing down the Panthers' defense.

Pregame: BBVA Compass Bowl

January, 5, 2013
1/05/13
9:00
AM ET
Pittsburgh (6-6, 3-4 Big East) vs. Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5 SEC)

Who to watch: It's pretty obvious that the most popular person wearing a football jersey in the state of Mississippi is Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief. The 6-foot-2, 214-pound sophomore gobbled up the defensive backfields of LSU and Mississippi State during the last two weeks of the season, catching 13 passes for 334 yards and five touchdowns. Now, he takes on a Pittsburgh defense that is giving up less than 200 passing yards a game through the air. The Panthers have also given up 12 passing touchdowns while collecting 13 interceptions. Expect Pitt free safety Jason Hendricks to try and take Moncrief out of deep-ball situations. He was one of the Panthers' most productive defenders this fall, and is Pitt's last line of defense against Moncrief. In order to get the most out of Ole Miss' offense, the Rebels must feed Moncrief.

What to watch: Pitt has quite the dynamic duo in quarterback Tino Sunseri and running back Ray Graham. Because of their solid play this fall, the Panthers have their first 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. The Panthers will try to establish the run to open up the pass, but it will do so against quite the line. Ole Miss' defensive line really came along this fall. What was supposed to be down year for the Rebels up front turned out to be pretty eventful. The Rebels rank third in the SEC with 34 sacks (2.8 per game) and totaled 92 tackles for loss during the regular season. The Panthers struggled with protection during the season, giving up a Big East-leading 34 sacks, which means Rebels defensive end C.J. Johnson, who leads Ole Miss with 6.5 sacks, could be in for a productive day.

Why to watch: Sure, these are two 6-6 teams going at it, but both come into the game with very interesting storylines. Remember, Pitt began the season 0-2, which included an embarrassing loss to Youngstown State to start the season. But the Panthers bounced back in a big way, winning four of their last six games. They ended the season with wins against Rutgers and South Florida by a combined score of 54-9. They also took Notre Dame to triple overtime before losing by a field goal. Thanks to the guidance of first-year coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels are in their first bowl game since 2009, and won six games after totaling just six wins in the previous two seasons. If not for a couple of second-half meltdowns, the Rebels might have won eight games this season.

Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Pittsburgh 21. The Rebels weren't supposed to be here, but Freeze's transformation of the program made Ole Miss a legitimate team in the SEC West this season. The momentum from that Egg Bowl win will carry over into a big win in Birmingham. Pittsburgh's defense has been pretty good all year, but the Rebels' spread and their heavy amount of speed will be too much for the Panthers late in the game.

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