The Ole Miss Rebels' 2012 season may not have unfolded the way they envisioned, but they sure ended it in fine form with Saturday's dominating 38-17 win over the Pittsburgh Panthers in the 2013 BBVA Compass Bowl.
In what many expected to be a close contest, Ole Miss dispelled that notion almost from the opening whistle. Following an errant Tino Sunseri pass that was picked off by Senquez Golson on the Panthers' opening possession, the Rebels' ensuing drive was capped off quickly with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Bo Wallace to Ja-Mes Logan.
The toss put Ole Miss ahead 7-0 less than five minutes into the contest, but it was a lead the team would never relinquish.
Following another quick drive from Pittsburgh, Wallace got the ball back inside his own territory and led perhaps the most impressive drive of the day. Taking the Rebels down the field 72 yards on 10 plays, the Ole Miss quarterback finished the drive with his second touchdown pass of the day, this time a 27-yard strike to Randall Mackey.
With the score 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, it seemed like the Rebels had already wrapped the game up. Pitt's offense looked stagnant without star running back Ray Graham, who was a late scratch for Saturday's game due to injury.
However, mistakes by Wallace sprang the Panthers offense into action and gave them temporary hopes. A second interception of the second quarter by Wallace put Pitt deep inside Rebels territory, and Sunseri took advantage by connecting with Devin Street on a 10-yard touchdown pass.
That pass would be just about the Panthers' only glimmer of hope on Saturday. Wallace immediately atoned for his mistake with another touchdown toss to give Ole Miss a 14-point lead, and the team kept that distance after matching field goals made the score 24-10 at halftime.
After the break, it was pure Rebels dominance. The Pitt offense continually stalled thanks to a brilliant defensive game plan, only getting a score in garbage time after Ole Miss spent the fourth quarter creating even more distance.
Though most of the action was commonplace, the Rebels' final touchdown of the day came on a 62-yard run by I'Tavius Mathers. The freshman is likely to factor heavily into Ole Miss' future plans, so that run may put the rest of the SEC on notice.
As for the major takeaways from Saturday's action, it seems both Pittsburgh and Ole Miss have found long-term answers at head coach.
The Panthers' loss gives them a 6-7 season, but Paul Chryst has to be proud of the job his team did in 2012. He took over after the ugly departure of Todd Graham, and though it wasn't an ideal season, making a bowl appearance is still worthy of praise.
On the other hand, a Compass Bowl victory undoubtedly gives Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze some momentum heading into spring practices. In his first season at the helm, Freeze gave Ole Miss its first winning season and bowl victory since 2009. With a bowl victory under his belt, the head coach may be able to use this win to improve an already-promising class before February's signing day.
Either way, Saturday's victory is one worth celebrating, as it may be a benchmark in the rebuilding of Ole Miss' program.
The news wasn't all bad for Pittsburgh, as ESPN's Kevin Carter was impressed with the job running back Russell Shell did:
Russell Shell offers a promising future for the Pitt run game in lieu of losing stud Sr. Ray Graham...— Kevin Carter (@kevincarterESPN) January 5, 2013
Meanwhile, CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli didn't seem so impressed with anything regarding Saturday's action:
Much like the compass app, a trip to the Compass Bowl comes free with the purchase of an iPhone.— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) January 5, 2013
Though most fans watching the game did not seem that excited, there were plenty of fans in attendance. Per Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News, the game drew a record crowd of 59,135 fans:
BBVA Compass Bowl announces crowd of 59,135, a new record for the game.— Jon Solomon (@jonsol) January 5, 2013
Solomon also had perspective on a certain BCS bowl that could have used a few of those fans:
Announced attendance of BBVA Compass Bowl outdrew the Sugar Bowl. Yes, that really happened.— Jon Solomon (@jonsol) January 5, 2013
Ultimately, the cabal of Rebels fans in attendance left with something to cheer about, as their team came away with a dominating victory.