4. Sacks of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri. The senior was sacked a combined 98 times in the 2011-12 seasons, so saying Ole Miss got to him repeatedly is like saying, "Both teams took the field," or, "There was a coin toss before the game." We don't need to be told it happened; we just assume it. That said, the sacks, in conjunction with seven other Ole Miss tackles for loss, repeatedly put the brakes on any potential Pitt drive. That, combined with the fact that running back Ray Graham sat out with a hamstring issue, led to another key number close to four: 3.9. That's Pitt's average yards per play. The Rebels' defense came up with its best performance since the Auburn game (3.6 yards per play, 20 points) on October 13. Good time for it.
4, also: Tackles for loss by Ole Miss linebacker Mike Marry. The junior from Clearwater, Florida, had only 6.5 such tackles in the regular season, but he exploded in Birmingham, logging one of the Rebels' four sacks and forcing a Tino Suneri fumble that stopped a promising Pitt drive early in the second quarter. Like almost everybody else who made a play for Ole Miss on Saturday, Marry is returning in 2013.
19. Projected returning starters for Ole Miss in 2012. Here's what I've learned about returning starters through the years: the numbers in the middle don't really matter. If you return 11, 14 or 17, the impact will be minimal. But if you lose an absolute ton (like Boise State in 2012), regression is all but guaranteed; and if you return a ton (say, 18 or higher), solid improvement is all but guaranteed. Ole Miss will be replacing just three starters: right guard A.J. Hawkins (29 career starts), tight end Jamal Mosley (15 catches in 2012) and nose tackle Gilbert Pena (6.5 tackles for loss in 2012). That's it. Some interesting backups also say goodbye -- QB/RB/WR Randall Mackey (who had a lovely, diving touchdown catch on Saturday), three defensive linemen and linebacker Joel Kight. But you can replace interesting backups. Especially when you are on track to pull in one of 2013's best recruiting classes.
There were 26 true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores on Ole Miss' bowl two-deep. This team was error-prone and inconsistent in 2012, but of course it was. One could see rather dramatic improvement in 2013, which is scary considering this team was already pretty darn good late in the season. The Rebels came within six points of winning at LSU on November 17, whipped Mississippi State on November 24, and handled Pittsburgh with relative ease in Birmingham. Throw in some stud freshmen, and you're looking at a 2013 team that is still quite young (and probably error-prone), but with immeasurable upside. Should be fun to watch.
38.8. Ole Miss' average starting field position. In my preview, I mentioned that the Rebels were pretty awful at the field position game in 2012, but they were not on Saturday. They gained just 387 yards (4.5 per play) for the day, but they significantly leveraged the field in their favor, starting each drive an average of 11.5 yards further upfield than Pittsburgh. Over the course of 13 drives for each team, that basically added about 150 yards to Ole Miss' yardage margin. That adds up.
152. Combined rushing yards for Ole Miss true freshmen I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. Give Pitt credit: The Panthers accounted for most of the Rebels' known weapons. Star receiver Donte Moncrief had his worst game in a while, catching six of nine passes for just 31 yards. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw two poor interceptions and averaged just 4.2 yards per pass attempt. Running back Jeff Scott managed a paltry 20 yards on 10 touches (six carries, four pass targets). The Rebels averaged 5.9 yards per play over their final three games, but they averaged barely 4.5 in this one. But in the end, they simply had too many options for which Pitt could account. Walton had a pair of nice kickoff returns in the second quarter and did the lion's share of the work on the touchdown drive that put the Rebels up, 31-10, late in the third. Mathers, then, put the game away in the fourth with a 62-yard touchdown run.
59,135. Announced attendance at the BBVA Compass Bowl. Here's where I remind you that the Sugar Bowl drew only 54,178. When Ole Miss fans have something to be excited about -- and I could call "an unexpected bowl bid with a super-young team and incredible, unforeseen recruiting momentum" pretty exciting -- and when they have a short trip to make for the bowl ... they'll make that short trip, evidently. Well done, Rebel fans.
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