SEC: bbva-compass-bowl-keys-2012

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.

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