Share This Page

Pitt drops Compass Bowl to Ole Miss, 38-17

| Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, 2:52 p.m.
Mississippi receiver Randall Mackey catches a touchdown pass as Pitt defensive back Jarred Holley defends during the first quarter of the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday at Legion Field in Birmingham. (AP)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The hits on Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri rushed toward him in relentless waves, each aimed at knocking him around like a dog shaking a rag doll.

Then the game started.

And down went Sunseri one last time as Pitt's starting quarterback, this time to Ole Miss, 38-17, on Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl, an outcome that secured a second consecutive losing season (6-7).

Over the past three seasons, Sunseri's critics were as vitriolic as opposing defenses were vicious. But he withstood the words better than the sacks (38 for the season, including four Saturday by a swarming Rebels defense).

Playing with a rebuilt offensive line, Pitt never found an answer to the pass rush and was dominated from start to finish by Ole Miss, a once-downtrodden program on the upswing. Rebels fans took over Legion Field like it was their own, helping to set a Compass Bowl record for attendance (59,135).

Pitt was dominated in the bowl for a second consecutive season after losing here last year to SMU, 28-6.

Sunseri, who started all of Pitt's 39 games from 2010 to '12, said it hasn't been easy for his team, which has lost 14 of 26 games since former coach Dave Wannstedt was dismissed amid much uproar two years ago.

“People don't understand how many punches we took and how we kept on rolling with it,” he said. “I think it brought us together.”

Pitt players were close, but seldom were they able to get near the Rebels, whose speed was something they were not accustomed to seeing.

“You could definitely tell it is SEC football,” said freshman running back Rushel Shell, who started in place of Ray Graham (hamstring). “Things are a tad quicker.”

Said Sunseri, who finished nine yards from Dan Marino on Pitt's all-time passing list: “They really got after us.”

The outcome was seldom in doubt after Sunseri threw an interception — his first since Sept. 15 — that set up the first of quarterback Bo Wallace's three first-half touchdown passes.

Pitt crawled to within, 14-7, in the second quarter when Sunseri found Devin Street for a 10-yard score, but Ole Miss answered with a 49-yard kickoff return by Jaylen Walton and a touchdown 63 seconds later.

Pitt's defense, forced to retool after the pre-bowl departure of defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable to North Carolina State, allowed Ole Miss to rush for 224 yards while sacking Wallace (22 for 32, 151 yards) only once.

“They beat us in almost every phase,” coach Paul Chryst said. “They were clearly the better team today. I thought the guys prepared well, but they outexecuted us.”

Sunseri operated behind an offensive line that started inexperienced Zenel Demhasaj at right tackle because right guard Arthur Doakes was suspended for violating a team rule. Matt Rotheram moved to guard after having played tackle all season.

Shell ran hard (79 yards on 25 carries), but the offense never found a rhythm. Sunseri often was hurried and completed only 16 of 32 passes.

More ammunition for his critics? So be it, Sunseri said.

The best and toughest feat he accomplished in three years as a starter, he said, was keeping his mouth shut in the face of all the criticism.

“There are always some things you wish you could say, but you have to be professional,” said Sunseri, son of longtime college coach and former Pitt All-American linebacker Sal Sunseri. “Sometimes people are going to say things you don't agree with, but that's their opinion, and you have to respect their opinion.”

But he didn't always keep quiet.

“I thank God I have the mom I have,” he said, “and I can call and vent to her instead of everybody else.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.