January 5, 2013 11:40:41 PM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Rebel Nation showed up loud and proud Saturday to cheer the University of Mississippi football team to a 38-17 victory against the University of Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl at Legion Field.
With a record-breaking 59,000 fans on hand, most of which were dressed in Ole Miss red and blue, the Rebels also set the record for the most points scored in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
It wasn't the perfect end to the perfect season, but the victory gave Ole Miss first-year coach Hugh Freeze a winning record (7-6). In the first meeting between the schools, the Rebels held the Panthers to 266 yards offense. The game marked Ole Miss' first bowl appearance since the 2009 season.
"I think the Rebel Nation showed up and Birmingham became like a second home to us," Freeze said. "I'm so proud we could deliver them a product they could be proud of. This win was huge for us. This advances our journey to be relevant in the SEC West. At the beginning of the season, I didn't if we could make it to a bowl game. Our goal was to play with passion. It wasn't always pretty, but these guys have played with passion for the university."
The Rebels had 387 yards total offense, including 224 from BBVA Compass Bowl MVP Bo Wallace. The quarterback was 22 of 32 with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
"I played OK. Nothing great," Wallace said. "I had the two interceptions and I had to bounce back from them. It was a home game for us. It was something special for the crowd to show up for a 6-6 team like they did."
Wallace's first touchdown was a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan on the Rebels' first drive. With 5 minutes, 22 seconds left in the first quarter, Wallace connected with running back Randall Mackey for a 27-yard touchdown pass. But Ole Miss was 9 of 20 on third-down conversions and Freeze said the offense's performance was marginal.
"We play with great emotion and we're pretty good when we don't hurt ourselves," Freeze said. "We had a lot of penalties and turnovers today. Not to take anything away from coach Paul (Chryst) and his staff, but a lot of this we did to ourselves. We played OK on offense. We didn't play great. We did better once we started playing full tempo, we did some crazy things, too. We just played OK on offense."
Ole Miss held Pittsburgh (6-7) to 10 points until late in the fourth quarter when quarterback Tino Sunseri hit Mike Shanahan for a 16-yard pass to account for the final margin.
Much has improved defensively for Ole Miss since the season started in September, and middle linebacker Mike Marry, who led the Rebels with seven tackles and a sack, said the defense is still a work in progress.
"We've got were we can finish the game," Marry said. "We are also playing for the person next to us instead of just playing for ourselves because you play that much harder when you aren't just playing for yourself. This win lets everyone know our program is moving in the right direction. We're not where we want to be, but we're getting better. We can be a whole lot better. We're still learning everyday."
Wallace, who last year led East Mississippi Community College to a national title, said he, too, looks forward to improving next season.
"I had an OK season, but there are so many things I can improve on," Wallace said. "That's the goal, to be a great quarterback in the SEC."