BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Hugh Freeze needed only one year to make a winner out of a Mississippi team that was woeful in 2011.
The coach noted with satisfaction that most experts didn’t predict such dramatic improvement in his first season.
Bo Wallace threw three touchdown passes and Ole Miss beat Pittsburgh 38-17 in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday to complete an impressive turnaround. Ole Miss (7-6) took a five-win improvement over its 2-10 finish in 2011.
“I’ve tried to learn not to make too much out of a single game either way, but no question this advances our journey a bit,” Freeze said. “To be where we’re sitting here year one far surpasses certainly the prognosticators and whatever they had for us. Our guys really chose to buy in and determine we could be who we want to be. We don’t have to have someone else determine that.”
The bowl win was especially satisfying for veteran players who had no postseason last year.
“The best thing is our program is moving in the right direction,” said junior linebacker Mike Marry, who had four of the Rebels’ 11 tackles for losses. “We’re not where we want to be right now but we’re moving there.”
Freeze’s no-huddle, up-tempo offense produced 38 first downs and 387 yards. Pitt was held to 266 yards, its second-lowest total of the season.
“Obviously, it was a tough one for us,” said Pitt coach Paul Chryst, also completing his first season. “Give Ole Miss credit. They beat us in almost every phase. They were clearly the better team.”
Wallace, chosen the game’s MVP, completed 22 of 32 passes for 151 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He judged his performance as only average.
“I played OK,” Wallace said. “I felt really good at the start of the game and then had the two interceptions and just had to bounce back from it.”
Pitt (6-7) struggled on offense as leading rusher Ray Graham was held out with a hamstring injury he suffered in bowl practice.
“We just couldn’t get in a rhythm, probably because of their pressure,” said Pitt wide receiver Mike Shanahan, who had a 16-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
“We just couldn’t seem to get in good field position.”
The Panthers fell behind in the opening minutes after quarterback Tino Sunseri threw his first interception since Sept. 15 and trailed the remainder of the game.
Wallace’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Ja-Mess Logan gave the Rebels the 7-0 lead. Wallace added first-half touchdown passes to Randall Mackey, for 27 yards, and Vince Sanders, for 18 yards.
Pitt was making its third straight appearance in the bowl. The Panthers lost to SMU in last year’s game.
Pitt played last game as a Big East team. The Panters are moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.