Much is made, rightfully so, of Nick Saban’s ability to prepare his football team when given the big layoff that a bowl game – particularly the national championship game – provides.
That attention to detail was on display last year when Alabama dominated LSU.
I would imagine we’ll see signs of it again tonight against Notre Dame.
I also thought we’d see those signs from Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl, and we did.
The Rebels were very workmanlike in their performance. They looked prepared and motivated. They looked coached on both sides of the ball.
We’ll never know exactly what different Ray Graham, Pitt’s multi-talented thousand-yard running back, would have made in the game, but that was obviously a huge loss for Pitt before the game ever kicked off. The Ole Miss defense has steadily improved against the run, however, and it’s doubtful Graham’s presence would have covered four touchdowns, which was the spread when Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze emptied the bench, and that Panthers scored late against a mix of defensive reserves, mostly in the secondary.
The Rebels made big plays on offense early when the game was still in doubt, and both teams were fresh and motivated.
Ole Miss didn’t rip off big chunks of yardage. A Pitt defense ranked in the top 25 nationally in every category – including No. 16 in total defense – made the Rebels work. But the Rebels made the plays early with Bo Wallace’s pass to the end zone to Ja-Mes Logan on third-and-13 from the 14. Then minutes later Randall Mackey had his most impressive play of the year when he extended to grab a Wallace pass that was just a fraction too long.
More evidence of the coaching was in the preparedness shown by Jaylen Walton when he got into the game. The freshman running back had gotten plenty of playing time as a kick returner but very little from the line of scrimmage once SEC play began.
Walton, though, looked like he belonged. With he and Mackey, the Ole Miss running game didn’t miss a step when Jeff Scott went out of the game. I’Tavius Mathers chipped in later.
The Rebels had mistakes that kept the lead from being larger, interceptions by Wallace, penalties by others.
On the whole they looked focused, motivated and well-coached.