BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WCBI/Ole Miss Athletics) — It was worth the wait.
Six weeks after closing out its regular season by defeating No. 24 Mississippi State to bring home the Egg Bowl trophy for the first time since 2008, Ole Miss (7-6) took down Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., 38-17. It was Ole Miss’ first bowl appearance since topping Oklahoma State 21-7 in the 2010 AT&T Cotton Bowl. The 38 points scored by Ole Miss is a BBVA Compass Bowl record.
“I try to not make too much out of a single game either way, but it’s no question that this advances our journey a bit and the process we’re on to develop in the SEC West year in and year out,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said.
Ole Miss has now won nine of its last 10 bowl games and each of its last five. The win moves Ole Miss’ bowl record to 22-12. The Rebels’ 22 bowl victories are tied for the 11th most in the country with Auburn and LSU.
Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace, the BBVA Compass Bowl MVP, finished the game 22-32 passing for 151 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Rebels spread the ball around through the air with three receivers catching five or more passes. Freshman running back I’Tavius Mathers led Ole Miss on the ground with six carries for 96 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, the longest in BBVA Compass Bowl history.
On the defensive side of the ball, junior middle linebacker Mike Marry led Ole Miss with seven tackles, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Playing in front of a predominantly red-clad BBVA Compass Bowl record crowd of 59,135, Ole Miss got off to a quick start. Rebels cornerback Senquez Golson dropped back into coverage and picked off Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri’s pass and returned it to the Panthers’ 23-yard line. The interception was Golson’s third of the season, with all three coming in the last three games.
Following Golson’s interception, which was just the third against Sunseri this season, Wallace capped off a five-play, 23-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead.
Wallace later completed his eighth consecutive pass to start the game with a 27-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Randall Mackey, who made a gorgeous diving catch in the end zone to give the Rebels a 14-0 lead. Mackey’s touchdown reception was the first of his career.
Following a Pitt touchdown, Wallace completed his third touchdown pass of the game with an 18-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Vince Sanders. The touchdown pass, Wallace’s 22nd of the year, moved him up to fourth on the Ole Miss single-season list, surpassing Eli Manning’s 2002 total of 21.
The Rebels closed out the first half with a 31-yard field goal from Bryon Rose that gave the Rebels a 24-10 lead going into the break. Ole Miss’ 24 first-half points tied the BBVA Compass Bowl record for most points scored in a half.
Ole Miss took a 21-point lead with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter on a one-yard quarterback sneak from Barry Brunetti that put the game on ice. The Rebels’ defense gave up just four yards in the entire third quarter, and did not allow a single first down.
Following the game, Freeze was doused with yellow Gatorade and spoke about how far Ole Miss came during the season after being picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference in the preseason prognostications.
“Our guys really chose to buy in and decided we can determine who we want to be. We don’t have to have someone else determine that,” Freeze said. “I didn’t know if we could (go to a bowl) or not, but I knew we could attack each week as an individual challenge and game. I was very clear with our goal in year one, that was to play with passion of football for our great university. I have no question, it was not always the prettiest thing, but I don’t doubt one single game that we didn’t give passion for our university.”