A late throw-away touchdown for the Panthers to make the final score 38-17 just didn’t matter. This one had long been over.
So what was the difference in a Rebel defense that early in the season had its problems but in its 13th game looked as good as just about any in the country?
“Just finishing the game,” said junior linebacker Mike Marry. “And playing for the man next to you rather than playing for yourself.”
This was a defense that earlier in the season gave up 66 points to a decent but not necessarily great Texas team in a losing cause. That was light years ago, it seems.
Ole Miss allowed only 266 yards and just 81 of those came on the ground. The Panthers were without 1,000-yard rusher Ray Graham who was injured. That made a difference. But still the Rebel defense seemed up to the task before them, whatever it was.
“It feels good because it means our program is moving in the right direction,” said Marry, who will be a key leader for the Rebels next season. “We’re not where we want to be right now, but we plan to put in more work so we can get there next year.”
It all actually started in this one with Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri throwing his first interception since Sept. 15. On that day Ole Miss hosted Texas. That’s how long it had been.
Senquez Golson picked Sunseri off, and the Rebels were in business deep, scoring quickly to lead early.
It basically ended with a Gilbert Pena stop of a Pitt rush on fourth down and 3 with nine minutes left in the contest. Ole Miss already led 31-10 at that point, and this one was in the red and blue bag.
Now Bo Knows Bowls
Bo Wallace was named the bowl’s MVP. He had an MVP game to go along with an MVP season.
The sophomore signal-caller was 22-of-32 for 151 yards with three touchdowns. And, oh yeah, two interceptions, both in the second quarter.
That’s when things could have gone south for the Rebels. But coach and player – and team – got things headed back in the right direction.
Wallace and the Rebels led 14-0 after a quarter. They maintained that lead throughout the rest of the way, for the most part.
“I played OK. Nothing just crazy,” Wallace said. “I felt really good at the start of the game and had two interceptions. I had to bounce back from it.”
Tempo. Fast-pace. It’s what Wallace likes and always says so.
“When Coach (Hugh) Freeze went tempo and tried to settle me down a little bit, that’s when I’m the most comfortable,” he said. “Once we went tempo, I felt back in a rhythm a little bit.”
All The Answers
Ole Miss answered Pitt when needed. The Rebels led 14-0 early, and the Panthers were able to score to pull to within a touchdown. Ole Miss pushed it back out to 21-7, but the Panthers made a field goal to move a bit closer at 21-10. On the final play of the first half, Bryson Rose made a 31-yarder as time expired to answer yet again.
“I think that’s something we always take pride in,” said Freeze of his team coming back each time Pitt scored after the Rebels were up 14-0. “We want to be able to answer, and our kids did. When we play with great emotion, we’re pretty good when we don’t hurt ourselves. The two possessions we didn’t produce in the first half, we had penalties and turnovers.”
They didn’t have to answer in the second half. They simply extended the lead and rolled to victory.
It’s something Ole Miss has done all season. It even answered the bell after some very gut-wrenching losses.
“Certainly there were some valleys,” Freeze said. “The Texas A&M and Vanderbilt losses in particular were valleys where your kids just gave you so much effort. Everything is so magnified when you lose games like that. Those are difficult times.”
But a mature Rebel team proved in the bowl game it had learned to deal with some down moments not only after losses but after bad situations in games. Today, there was no denying they answered when they needed it.
Ole Miss set quite a few BBVACompass Bowl records. Attendance, for starters. The crowd was announced at 59,135, which was 16,000 more than this relatively new bowl had seen in its seven years.
“This became like a second home for us,” Freeze said.
“It was a home game for us,” Wallace said. “That’s what it was.”
Other notable bowl accomplishments for this team:
The 38 points were the most by a single team in the seven-year history of the game.
The 55 total points by Ole Miss and Pittsburgh were the most combined in this bowl game.
Ole Miss’ 23 first downs were a bowl record for one team.
I’Tavius Mathers’ 62-yard run for a touchdown in the fourth quarter was the longest run in bowl history and longest for a touchdown.
Bryson Rose’s five successful extra points were a bowl record here.