Daily Blog • January 5th



Pittsburgh vs Ole Miss
PITTSBURGH (6-6) 105
1:00 pm • ESPN • Legion Field • Birmingham, AL

While the Panthers are bowling in Birmingham for a 3rd consecutive year (5th straight bowl overall), this will also mark the 3rd consecutive year that Pitt has had a different HC leading them to the post season as Paul Chryst’s previous bowl experience came as an OC at both Wisconsin and Oregon St. The Panthers have never faced the Rebels. The Rebels return to the post season for the 1st time since ‘09 under 1st year HC Freeze. This is Freeze’s bowl coaching debut as he accepted the UM job last year prior to Arkansas St’s bowl.

The Panthers have my #48 ranked offense that avg 27 ppg and 400 ypg. Quite possibly the most improved player on the Pitt squad this year is QB Sunseri who, with the addition of Chryst as HC, has moved back to the pro-style offense that he is more accustomed to. The biggest area of growth had to be his ratio as he went from a 10-11 ratio in ‘11 to a splendid mark of 19-2 in ‘12 while also increasing his yardage and % output. The Panthers lost their biggest weapon at the tail end of last year in RB Ray Graham (ACL after 8 games) but he surprisingly started the opener and has eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark for the 1st time in his career. Spelling Graham is super true frosh Shell who is 3 inches taller and 25 lbs heavier than Graham. WR’s Street and Shanahan both have a shot at reaching the 1,000 yard receiving milestone here while TE Holtz has done an excellent job filling in for the inj-battered Hubie Graham. The OL avg a massive 6’5” 323 led by Sr’s LG Chris Jacobson and C Ryan Turnley. They have paved the way for 137 ypg (3.6) on the ground while trimming their sacks from a modern era NCAA all-time high of 64 (15%) last year to a more acceptable 34 (9.4%) this year. The D has my #28 ranking allowing 20 ppg and 326 ypg. The DL (6’3” 273) is led by DT Donald who is surprisingly 3rd on the team in tackles while leading the Panthers in both sacks and tfl. The unit has allowed 129 ypg (3.8) on the ground while recording 14 of the team’s 23 sacks (61%). LB’s Thomas, Williams and Gordon are #4, #5 and #6 tacklers, respectively. S’s Hendricks and Holley are #1 and #2 in a secondary that finished #33 in my pass eff D allowing 197 ypg (57%) with a 12-13 ratio. Pitt has my #27 ranked ST’s as K Harper has hit on 19 of his 26 FG att’s.

UM used a big 2H to crush its state rivals in the Egg Bowl and go bowling. Newcomers played a big role on this year’s squad led by JC QB Wallace who won the Conerly Trophy as Mississippi’s top college player. Wallace is dangerous through the air and on the ground accounting for 27 total td’s although he needs to cut down on mistakes as he led the SEC with 15 int. The leading rusher is diminutive speedster Scott who had his 4th 100 yard performance of the season in the finale. He shares the load with the versatile Mackey who is also the team’s #4 rec. The offense’s hottest weapon, however, is WR Moncrief who finished #5 in the SEC in receiving after back-to-back outstanding games vs LSU and MSU totaling 13 rec’s (25.7) and 5 td’s! The top 3 WR’s are all are 6’1” or taller which presents matchup problems. The OL (6’4” 308) started the same lineup in the last 11 games of the season but did allow 33 sacks (8.8%). The Rebels finished with my #26 off and my #40 D. The DL (6’3” 280) allowed 133 rush ypg (3.6) thanks to holding MSU to -11 yards. DE Johnson is the top sacker while huge NT Pena clogs the run lanes. Undersized rFr LB Nkemdiche led the Rebs in tackles and tfl with MLB Marry #3. UM plays a base 4-2-5 and finished #60 in my pass eff D (250, 64%, 19-14). The secondary had its ups and downs with only #2 tackler FS Prewitt and CB Sawyer starting all 12 games. The ST’s (#94) star was K Rose who hit 17-25 FG’s but 4 of his misses were from 50+. P Broadway had a 36.4 net with 1 block. KR Walton avg’d 23.3 but the PR struggled with Neat avg 4.6. With 14 frosh Fr playing, many of them on ST’s, it’s not a surprise that the coverage units struggled allowing 8.5 on PR and 25.6 on KR (#116 FBS) with 3 combined td’s.

You’d have to believe Panthers probably spent a little of this post season worrying about a yet another head coaching change and I also wonder how excited they’ll be to return to the same bowl for a 3rd straight year. On the flip side, after 2 wins last year, any bowl is exciting for Ole Miss and the fans will be supportive as they consider this their 1st step towards an improved 2013.