Pitt falls to Ole Miss 38-17 in BBVA Compass Bowl

Paul Chryst said his game plan didn’t change without leading

rusher Ray Graham.

Graham’s hamstring injury just made it much more difficult for

Pittsburgh to execute that plan.

A rare early interception by Tino Sunseri set up the first of

three touchdown passes by Mississippi’s Bo Wallace and the Rebels

beat Pitt 38-17 in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday.

Graham, who had 1,042 yards rushing, suffered the hamstring

injury in bowl practice. The injury was disclosed before the

game.

The Panthers averaged only 2.2 yards per carry without Graham.

Rushel Shell had 25 carries for 79 yards.

”Obviously, it was a tough one for us,” Chryst said after

completing his first season. ”Give Ole Miss credit. They beat us

in almost every phase. They were clearly the better team

today.”

Pitt (6-7) fell behind in the opening minutes after 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.

Sunseri completed 16 of 32 passes for 185 yards with two

touchdowns and one interception.

Ole Miss led 24-10 at halftime and put the game away with the

first two touchdowns of the second half.

Ole Miss (7-6) took a five-win improvement with first-year coach

Hugh Freeze 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.”

Wallace, chosen the game’s MVP, completed 22 of 32 passes for

151 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

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.

”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.”

Pitt stayed close early with Devin Street’s 10-yard pass from

Sunseri in the second quarter. That was Pitt’s only touchdown until

Sunseri’s scoring pass to Shanahan with only 2:23 remaining.

Kevin Harper kicked a 47-yard field goal, his longest of the

season, for Pitt in the second quarter.

Sunseri’s streak of 271 passes without an interception, the

nation’s longest, ended on his second throw of the Panthers’

opening drive. Senquez Golson’s interception, returned 17 yards to

the Pitt 23, set up Wallace’s touchdown pass to Logan. It was only

Sunseri’s third interception of the season and his first since the

team’s third game against Virginia Tech.

Pitt had only one turnover in its last seven games of the

regular season. It shared the nation’s lead with only eight

turnovers for the season.

Sunseri lost a fumble early in the second quarter for the

Panthers’ second turnover.

Pitt was making its third straight appearance in the bowl. The

Panthers lost to SMU in last year’s game.

The Panthers played their last game as a Big East team. They are

moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

Ole Miss backup quarterback Barry Brunetti had a 1-yard

touchdown run in the third quarter and freshman running back

I’Tavius Mathers added a 62-yard scoring run midway through the

fourth quarter to cap the rout.

Wallace completed his first eight passes, including two for

touchdowns but his hot streak ended with two second-quarter

interceptions.

Bryson Rose kicked a 31-yard field goal for Ole Miss and missed

from 44 and 48 yards.

Mathers led the Rebels with 96 yards rushing on only six

carries. Jaylen Walton had 10 carries for 56 yards. Freeze said a

hamstring injury in the game limited Ole Miss starting running back

Jeff Scott to five carries for 16 yards.

A strong turnout by Ole Miss fans within driving range of

Birmingham pushed attendance to 59,135, easily a bowl record. The

previous high was 42,610 for the 2010 game between South Carolina

and Connecticut.