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A look back at the BBVA Compass Bowl

By David Collier is a junior broadcast journalism major in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss


Follow David on Twitter @DavidLCollie

Saturday’s 38-17 victory over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl was just about as perfect of a way to end a season for a first-year head coach, and that’s exactly what Hugh Freeze was able to do.

The game was dominated from start to finish by an Ole Miss team that seems to have found its identity and found out to win ballgames.

There is still a lot to improve on before the fall of 2013 rolls around, but Freeze has to be pretty pleased with the product he put on the field Saturday. It was a team full of guys playing for each other with a focused intensity throughout the game.

To me, it was one of the best executed games and gave fans a lot of reasons to be optimistic for the future of Ole Miss football, and here are a few:

Depth at running back

Randall Mackey is a senior and the odds of Jeff Scott lasting an entire season by himself are not good, so Ole Miss needed someone to step up and prove they could be a productive player in the running back rotation.

If Saturday was any indication, freshmen running backs Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers both showed they are ready to take that next step on Saturday.

Mathers highlight the duo with a 62-yard touchdown run that saw him use good vision and a burst of speed to find the end zone. He ended the day with 96 yards on six carries.

Walton added 58 yards on the ground on 10 carries and also looked impressive on kickoff return with a 49-yard return. His speed and shiftiness is sure to be a deadly combination for defenses in the future.

It is always said that the most underrated perk of making a bowl game is the additional practice you have for young players, and there’s no doubt in my mind that was the case with Walton and Mathers.

With spring practices and a whole year in the weight room, these two running backs will be players to watch for in 2013.

Vince Sanders

Sophomore wide receiver Donte Moncrief gets essentially all the attention of not only the fans but opposing teams as well, and it’s well deserved. However, sophomore Vince Sanders is quietly becoming a very valuable receiver for quarterback Bo Wallace to target.

Sanders was highly recruited out of high school, but a redshirted season and a lackluster freshman campaign left him under the radar. When Freeze was hired, Sanders had a chance to have another chance of seeing extended playing time, and so far, he’s taken full advantage of it.

He caught a touchdown pass on Saturday, and really, the last half of the season, Sanders has been an asset to the Rebel passing attack.

WIth an offseason to work with Wallace, it’s scary to think of the damage that could be done with both Sanders and Moncrief on the outside.

Issac Gross

Freshman defensive tackle Issac Gross has pretty much seen it all in his first year of college football.

He’s been double-teamed by SEC opponents, knocked down by his opponent, beat his opponent and pretty much everything in between, and he’s done it all at only 254 pounds

With a full offseason of workouts in the Rebels’ strength and conditioning program, Gross is going to be extremely hard to block.

Saturday he only had two tackles, but his quick first step blows up the middle of the defensive line and gives other guys opportunities to make plays. If he continues to add weight and muscle, I feel sorry for any guard or center who is matched up against him.

Channing Ward

So much was said of freshman defensive end Channing Ward when he was finally cleared by the NCAA clearinghouse near the end of fall camp. No one really knew how he quickly he could make an impact, especially with getting late start at practices.

During the 2012 season, Ward definitely had some growing pains, but he also showed a world of potential.

At 256 pounds, Ward runs with almost anyone. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the opening kickoff of Saturday’s BBVA Compass Bowl. Ward (a defensive end, remember) was the first Ole Miss player down the field to light up the Pittsburgh return man.

Saturday also saw him play more than he really has all season.

It’s easy to see the raw talent Ward brings to the table, so a full slate of spring practices and fall camp next season should polish the tools necessary to make Ward a impact player on the Ole Miss defensive line next year.

Up-tempo offense

Ole Miss ran its up-tempo offense in the bowl victory than they did all season long. The most impressive display of the speed offense was a five-play, 48-yard drive that took 1:03 off the clock and resulted in a touchdown to Sanders from Wallace.

Freeze has let it be known that he wants to go fast, and once the team gets more comfortable in the offense, they will only go faster and be more dangerous to opposing defenses.

Saturday, Ole Miss ran 86 plays compared to just 68 for Pittsburgh. That will be a trend Rebel fans will be used to seeing in the future.

Most Valuable Player

Bo Wallace was awarded the most valuable trophy for the bowl win over Pittsburgh, but I’m going to break it down to an offensive and defensive MVP.

On offense, I’ll stick with Wallace. He did have two interceptions, but three touchdowns is hard to beat, especially when they were all caught by different players.

Wallace was six yards short of reaching 3,000 for the season, but Rebel fans have to be optimistic about his ability to lead the high tempo offense in 2013.

Defensively, I’m going to name junior linebacker Mike Marry as my MVP. Marry was all over the field Saturday, leading Ole Miss in tackles with seven, including four for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble.

The highlight defensive play of the day in my book was Marry’s explosive tackle on a Pittsburgh running back that was extremely similar (minus knocking a helmet off and forcing a recovering a fumble, of course) to the hit South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney put on a Michigan running back in their bowl game.

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