Pitt is headed for its third straight BBVA Compass Bowl. The Panthers will face the Ole Miss Rebels, who routed rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to reach 6 wins. Ole Miss also notched wins against Central Arkansas, UTEP, Auburn, Arkansas, and Tulane.
Ole Miss is led by first year Head Coach Hugh Freeze, a former high school coach who came to Ole Miss after one year as the Head Coach at Arkansas State. Freeze came in touting a fast paced, high powered offense and family values. The Rebels have more than surpassed expectations this year, as many expected them to have a repeat of 2011's 2-10 campaign that led to Houston Nutt being fired.
I am a Pitt fan, but I live in Jackson, Mississippi. I talk football with Ole Miss fans every day, and have actually watched more Ole Miss games than Pitt games this year. So I am going to give a quick rundown of the Ole Miss team, and what we can expect when they face Pitt a month from now.
- Ole Miss can score a lot of points. Redshirt Sophmore quarterback Bo Wallace is a dual threat, with 27 total touchdowns. But he also struggles with decision making and has thrown 15 picks on the year. Wallace isn't the only threat to throw. Backup quarterback Barry Brunetti and running back Randall Mackey have also thrown the ball. And all three of them will be looking to throw to Donte Moncrief. The big bodied receiver 60 catches and 10 touchdowns on the year. The phrase "Feed Moncrief" has been put on t-shirts and there is even a Feed Moncrief song and music video on YouTube.
- On paper, Ole Miss defense is undersized and inexperienced. This has proven to be their downfall in some games, such as when they were ripped by Texas to the tune of 66 points. The defensive front has countered their size disadvantage by loading the box and selling out against the run. This strategy kept Ole Miss competitive in games against Alabama and LSU, and it worked in the win over Mississippi State. The undersized defensive line is also very fast. Defensive end C.J. Johnson can give any tackle fits trying to stop him.
- Ole Miss has struggled mightily on special teams. The Rebels have fumbled a handful of punts and have allowed some big returns as well. Punter Jim Broadway has increasingly struggled as the season has gone on.
I think Pitt is going to have a lot of trouble in this game. The team's performance last year in Birmingham against SMU was not anything to be proud of, and you have to wonder if the team will be able to get excited about this game. On the other hand, the entire Ole Miss program and fanbase is caught up in the excitement of a bowl game. Ole Miss's tendency to load the box will mean that Pitt will need to throw the ball down the field to be successful. The Rebels' hurry up offense and speed will test Pitt's depth in the front 7. Ole Miss has struggled putting away bad teams, like Auburn, this year, but they gave Texas A&M and LSU all they could handle.
For Pitt to win, they have to get off to a fast start. If they come out like they did against UConn and Syracuse, this one could get ugly quickly. If Pitt can make plays down the field and take advantage of turnovers, they should be in good shape. Another key will be protecting Tino. The pressure caused by the Ole Miss defensive line caused Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell into a couple of bad throws. Pitt should try to run inside to keep the defense honest. This will be a nice test for Paul Chryst to see the gameplan he can come up with in the next month.