BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Pitt hasn’t won three games in a row since 2010, but a victory Saturday against Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl will match that winning streak.
That would be no small accomplishment for first-year coach Paul Chryst, especially after the team followed up its two previous two-game winning streaks this season with two losses in a row.
Beating Ole Miss won’t be easy, largely because the Rebels have more speed on offense than Pitt has on defense. Plus, the Rebels have been competitive, if not successful, in the SEC.
Ole Miss had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of its game against Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel before losing, 30-27. Texas A&M won, despite committing six turnovers.
The Rebels also nearly upset Vanderbilt, losing, 27-26, even though quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 403 yards. The next week, Ole Miss ventured into Baton Rouge to play LSU and led, 28-20, after three quarters. The Rebels ended up losing, 41-35.
Those games represent Ole Miss deficiencies on both sides of the ball, but they also indicate the Rebels can score. In 10 of 12 games, they recorded 26 or more points — seven times reaching 30.
In the most recent two games, wide receiver Donte Moncrief totaled 13 receptions for 334 yards and five touchdowns in losing to LSU and beating Mississippi State.
Overall, Moncrief finished fifth in the SEC with an average of 79 receiving yards per game and a total of 948.
— Pitt needs to control the game’s tempo with a running game, so Ray Graham and Rushel Shell need to play well behind a rebuilt offensive line.
Zenel Demhasaj, who came to Pitt in 2011 from Nassau (N.Y.) Community College, will start at right tackle. Demhasaj is 6-7, 325 pounds, but this will be his first major-college start. Matt Rotheram, a natural guard who may move there permanently next year, will switch from right tackle to right guard to replace Arthur Doakes, who has been suspended for violating team rules.
Doakes is the second offensive line suspended by Chryst this season, which probably bothers him as much as any loss this season.
— Pitt can beat Ole Miss because players and coaches always prepare well, and they minimize turnovers. In fact, Pitt is the only team in the country with single-digit turnovers lost (eight).
Predicted score: Pitt 27, Ole Miss 24.
As always, watch, but don’t bet.
— Quick story from former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerfful, the keynote speaker Friday at the Compass Bowl luncheon:
Wuerfful, the 1996 Heisman Trophy winner, attended a Heisman ceremony a few years ago where he was followed by a boy with a helmet that he apparently wanted signed.
Wuerfful was wary of autograph hounds using children to get autographs, and he knew if the item was personalized, that would diminish the worth of the helmet.
So,. when he asked the boy whose name should he put on the helmet, the boy was silent. He asked again, and the boy just stared at him.
Finally, the boy said, “I don’t know who you are, but I saw you talking to Tim Tebow. Could you get his autograph for me?”
— Wuerfful gave an inspirational speech about his ministry, which he started in New Orleans to help grow impoverished neighborhoods. He also talked about his battle with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that can cause paralysis.
He is recovering, but admits he moves a little slower these days. He was able to joke about the spinal tap he received early in his treatment when the doctor told him, “Don’t worry, you’re in good hands. I’m an Alabama fan and (the other doctor) is an Auburn fan.”