Ole Miss receiver has Pitt's full attention
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — When a reporter asked Pitt coach Paul Chryst about Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief at a news conference Friday at Legion Field, the reporter mentioned his uniform number to identify who he thought was an unfamiliar player.
“No. 12,” the reporter said, helpfully.
Chryst laughed, a bit nervously. He knows No. 12 and has known about Moncrief almost since the day last month when the BBVA Compass Bowl matched Pitt and Ole Miss for Saturday's game.
“Trust me. We know him,” Chryst said. “Enough said.”
Senior safety Jarred Holley said Moncrief has been a focus during Pitt's practice sessions.
“That's one guy we keyed in on all week,” Holley said.
The key to beating Ole Miss and extending Pitt's winning streak to three games is slowing down a fast-paced Rebels passing game, led by sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace and Moncrief.
“Bo likes to go fast,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.
And he likes to throw the ball to Moncrief.
Moncrief, a 6-foot-3, 216-pound sophomore, finished second in the SEC with 10 touchdown catches, tying a school record. Three of those scores and 173 receiving yards came against rival Mississippi State in a 41-24 victory that made the Rebels bowl eligible.
“You just throw it up and he is going to get it,” Wallace said.
Holley said the Rebels' offense reminds him “a little bit” of Pitt's no-huddle attack last year.
“As long as we are winning first down and not putting our offense in less-than-desirable positions, we will continue to go at that pace,” Freeze said.
Said Wallace: “I feel like that is when I am at my best.”
Ole Miss is the third school for Wallace since he left Pulaski, Tenn., in 2010. He started at Arkansas State, where Freeze was his offensive coordinator, and transferred to East Mississippi Junior College, where he won a national championship in 2011.
He joined the Rebels last January a month after Freeze got the job. This season, he finished fourth in the SEC in total offense (267.2 ypg), throwing for 2,843 yards and rushing for 323. He also threw 19 touchdown passes with 15 interceptions.
He is part of the rebirth of the Ole Miss football program under Freeze, who inherited a team that was 2-10 in 2011.
Ole Miss' growth goes beyond its 6-6 record this season.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche senses a different locker room at Ole Miss.
“We are like a team now,” said Nkemdiche, whose brother, Robert, is the No. 1 overall high school prospect in the U.S. and is leaning toward Ole Miss. “We love each other and we are starting to treat each other like brothers.
“The selfishness is completely out of the picture. Everybody is playing for each other and the fans, and playing for the coaches. It's a total turnaround.”