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Going Bowling: Football faces stiff test in Mississippi

Aaron Donald enters the bowl season with a Big East-best 18.5 TFLs.

Aaron Donald enters the bowl season with a Big East-best 18.5 TFLs.

Dec. 11, 2012

Pitt (6-6, 3-4 Big East) vs. Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5 SEC)

BBVA Compass Bowl • Birmingham, Ala.

Jan. 5, 2013 • 1 p.m., ET • ESPN

Legion Field (71,594/SureTurf)

Pitt Bowl Notes Link: Ole Miss Game


Pitt Bowl Storylines

• Pitt will make its fifth consecutive postseason appearance, and 29th all-time, when it meets Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl. This will be the first meeting ever between the Panthers and Rebels. Pitt is 12-2-2 vs. current Southeastern Conference teams.

• Pitt earned bowl eligibility with two decisive victories to close the regular season. The Panthers routed No. 19 Rutgers, 27-6, and USF, 27-3, to qualify for the postseason. Similarly, Ole Miss closed its regular season on a high note, rolling past Egg Bowl rival Mississippi, ranked No. 24 at the time, 41-24.

• The Panthers boast a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season for the first time in school history. Tino Sunseri has thrown for 3,103 yards, the third highest single-season total by a Pitt quarterback, while Ray Graham, coming off preseason knee surgery, has rushed for 1,042 yards.


 

 

Tino Sunseri has thrown 270 consecutive passes without an interception, the longest active streak in the country. Sunseri has 19 touchdown passes against just two INTs. He ranks second in the Big East and 19th nationally in pass efficiency with a strong 154.95 rating. 

• The Pitt offense has been exceptional in taking care of the football this year. The Panthers lead the country in fewest turnovers with eight (tied with Ohio). Pitt has just one turnover in its past seven games. 

• The Panthers' defense has been playing at its highest level of the season of late. Pitt closed the regular season owning impressive national rankings in total defense (16th, 325.83 yards/game), scoring defense (21st, 19.67 points/game), pass efficiency defense (22nd, 112.71 rating), pass defense (24th, 196.75 yards/game) and rush defense (tied for 24th, 129.08 yards/game).

 

Pitt-Ole Miss History in Brief

Series Began: BBVA Compass Bowl marks first meeting

Pitt All-Time Bowl Record: 28 bowls, 12-16 record

Ole Miss All-Time Bowl Record: 33 bowls, 21-12 record

Last Pitt Bowl Appearance: Jan. 7, 2012 (lost to SMU, 28-6, in BBVA Compass Bowl)

Last Ole Miss Bowl Appearance: Jan. 2, 2010 (defeated Oklahoma State, 21-7, in Cotton Bowl)

Pitt All-Time Record: 683-496-42

Ole Miss All-Time Record: 627-492-35


Pitt-Ole Miss Bowl Broadcast Information

Television • ESPN2

Eamon McAnaney, play-by-play

David Diaz-Infante, analyst

Paul Carcaterra, reporter

Pitt Radio • Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan & the Pitt IMG Sports Network

Bill Hillgrove, play-by-play

Pat Bostick, analyst

Gregg Giannotti, reporter

National Radio

ESPN Radio

Internet Audio • Panthers All-Access

PittsburghPanthers.com


Pitt Bowl Notes & Anecdotes

Pitt vs. the SEC

Pitt is 12-2-2 all-time vs. current members of the Southeastern Conference. The Panthers last played an SEC team on January 8, 2011, when they defeated Kentucky, 27-10, in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

Series Record Last Meeting
0-0 vs. Alabama -
0-0 vs. Arkansas -
0-0 vs. Auburn -
0-0-1 vs. Florida 1977
3-0-1 vs. Georgia 1982 Sugar Bowl
1-0 vs. Kentucky 2011 BBVA Compass Bowl
0-0 vs. LSU -
1-0 vs. Missouri% 1940
0-0 vs. Ole Miss -
0-0 vs. Mississippi State -
3-1 vs. South Carolina* 1985
2-0 vs. Tennessee 1983
2-1 vs. Texas A&M# 2003
0-0 vs. Vanderbilt -

% Missouri was a member of the Big 6 Conference when it played Pitt in 1940.
* South Carolina was a major independent when it played Pitt in 1980, 1981, 1984 and 1985.
# Texas A&M was a member of the Southwest Conference (1989) and the Big XII (2002, 2003) when it played Pitt.

Pitt Bowl History

The Panthers have played in 28 bowl games in their history, compiling a 12-16 record. The following is a listing of Pitt's all-time bowl games.

Season Bowl Opponent Opponent
1927* Rose Stanford L, 7-6
1929* Rose Southern Cal L, 47-14
1932* Rose Southern Cal L, 35-0
1936* Rose Washington W, 21-0
1955* Sugar Georgia Tech L, 7-0
1956 Gator Georgia Tech L, 21-14
1973 Fiesta Arizona State L, 28-7
1975 Sun Kansas W, 33-19
1976* Sugar Georgia W, 27-3
1977 Gator Clemson W, 34-3
1978 Tangerine NC State L, 30-17
1979 Fiesta Arizona W, 16-10
1980 Gator South Carolina W, 37-9
1981* Sugar Georgia W, 24-20
1982* Cotton Southern Methodist L, 7-3
1983* Fiesta Ohio State L, 28-23
1987 Bluebonnet Texas L, 32-27
1989 John Hancock Texas A&M W, 31-28
1997 Liberty Southern Mississippi L, 41-7
2000 Insight.com Iowa State L, 37-29
2001 Tangerine NC State W, 34-19
2002 Insight Oregon State W, 38-13
2003 Continental Tire Virginia L, 23-16
2004* Tostitos Fiesta Utah L, 35-7
2008 Brut Sun Oregon State L, 3-0
2009 Meineke Car Care North Carolina W, 19-17
2010* BBVA Compass Kentucky W, 27-10
2011* BBVA Compass Southern Methodist L, 28-6

* Game played the following calendar year.

Early Indicator

Pitt is 6-1 this season when it scores first. The lone loss was a 45-35 setback against Louisville on Oct. 13. In contrast, Pitt is 0-5 this season when its opponent scores first.

Close Shaves

Three of Pitt's six defeats this year have been by single-digit margins. Each of those close shaves have been on the road -- Oct. 5 at Syracuse (14-13), Nov. 3 at Notre Dame (29-26 in three overtimes) and Nov. 9 at Connecticut (24-17). 

Terrific Turnover Margin

Pitt leads the Big East and ranks 12th nationally (tied) in turnover margin. The Panthers are plus-12 in the turnover department (1.00 margin per game), forcing 20 and only losing eight.

Fresh Faces

In 2012, Pitt has only played four true freshmen. That select group includes tight end J.P. Holtz, defensive lineman Darryl Render, tailback Rushel Shell and cornerback Jahmahl Pardner. Holtz has played in all 12 games, starting nine. He has 12 receptions for 170 yards (14.2 avg.) and three touchdowns on the year. Shell is Pitt's second-leading rusher with 562 yards and four TDs on 116 carries (4.8 avg.) in 11 games played. Render has played in 10 contests with one start, and has six tackles, 1.5 TFLs and one PBU on the season. Pardner had been playing a significant role as a nickel back and reserve cornerback through the first three games but suffered a left ACL injury against Virginia Tech and will be out for the season. He is expected to receive a medical redshirt. 

2012 Team Captains

Pitt has selected its team captains for the 2012 season. They are senior center Ryan Turnley, senior wide receiver Mike Shanahan, senior wide receiver Cameron Saddler, senior safety Jarred Holley and junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Impressive Combination

For the first time in program history, Pitt has a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. Senior quarterback Tino Sunseri has thrown for 3,103 yards this year, while senior running back Ray Graham has rushed for 1,042. The closest the Panthers previously came in achieving this combination was in 1992 when Alex Van Pelt threw for 3,163 and Tim Colicchio rushed for 743. 

Ray on the Career Lists

Ray Graham will finish his career as one of the most productive running backs in school history. Graham is prominent on Pitt's career statistical lists for all-purpose yards, rushing and scoring.  He currently ranks second in both rushing (3,271) and all-purpose yards (4,943) and fifth in scoring (216 points).

Golden Graham

Ray Graham had one of the finest performances of his career when Pitt faced the heralded Notre Dame defense on Nov. 3. Graham rushed for a season-high 172 yards (the most against the Irish in 2012) and a touchdown on 24 carries (7.2 avg.). Notre Dame entered the game ranked ninth nationally in rushing defense (95.25 avg.). Graham's first carry of the game was a 55-yard burst into the heart of the Notre Dame defense. It stands as the longest offensive play given up by the Irish this season. Later in the second quarter, he scooted around the right end for a 16-yard touchdown run -- the first rushing TD by an opposing running back against the Irish this year. 

Efficiency Excellence

Tino Sunseri ranks second in the Big East and 19th nationally in pass efficiency with an impressive 154.95 rating. On the year he has completed 240-of-361 passes (67%) for 3,103 yards and 19 touchdowns with just two interceptions. As a junior, Sunseri ranked 82nd nationally in pass efficiency (124.09), completing 64% of his passes (247 of 385) for 2,616 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

270 Passes and Counting

Tino Sunseri has a current streak of 270 pass attempts without an interception, the longest active streak in the country. Sunseri's last interception came at the 14:13 mark of the fourth quarter in Pitt's 35-17 victory over Virginia Tech on Sept. 15. That INT came at the Pitt 36 with the Panthers holding a 28-17 lead. Pitt's defense rose to the occasion, forcing a three-and-out. On their next possession, the Panthers drove 88 yards for the game-clinching touchdown, a six-yard Sunseri pass to Mike Shanahan. Sunseri's only other interception this season came in the second game of the year at Cincinnati (Sept. 6).

Seasoned Signal Caller

Tino Sunseri has started 38 consecutive games dating back to the 2010 season opener at Utah. Sunseri's starting streak is the longest by a Pitt quarterback since Alex Van Pelt made a school-record 46 consecutive starts from 1989-92. Van Pelt is Pitt's career leader in passing yards (11,267) and total offense (11,148). Sunseri ranks third in both career passing yards (8,405) and career total offense (8,422).

Terrific on Turnovers

Pitt is tied for first nationally in fewest turnovers with just eight on the year (tied with Ohio). The Panthers are also tied for the national lead with only two interceptions thrown (tied with Army). In terms of fumbles lost, Pitt ranks 14th (tied) nationally with just six. Pitt has just two turnovers in its past eight games. During that span the Panthers lost a fumble in the first quarter at Syracuse (Oct. 5) and also lost a fumble on a center-QB exchange against Rutgers (Nov. 24). 

Top Targets

Pitt boasts two of the Big East's top pass catchers in junior Devin Street and senior Mike Shanahan. Street ranks second in receptions per game (5.5 avg.) and third in receiving yards per game (74.3 avg.). Shanahan is second in receiving yards (77.2) and fourth in receptions (4.8).

A Pitt player has led the Big East in receptions four times in the history of the conference. Larry Fitzgerald was the last to accomplish the feat during his 2003 All-America season when he averaged 7.1 catches per game. A Pitt player has led the Big East in receiving yards nine times, the most recent coming in 2005 when two-time all-conference receiver Greg Lee averaged 87.5 yards per contest. Fitzgerald was the last Pitt player to lead the Big East in both categories in the same season (2003).

Sticky Fingers

Mike Shanahan and Devin Street rank among the most prolific pass catchers in Pitt history as evidenced by the school's career lists for receptions and receiving yards. Shanahan is fifth all-time in receptions (155) and ninth in receiving yards (2,219). Street has 144 catches to rank sixth and is 10th in career receiving yards with 1,964.

A Winning Shell Game

Freshman tailback Rushel Shell was a key offensive catalyst in Pitt's 35-17 win over Virginia Tech by rushing for 157 yards on 23 attempts, an impressive 6.8-yard average. It is the highest single-game rushing total by a Big East freshman this season and the fifth best rushing performance by a Big East player regardless of class. Shell is the first Pitt freshman to rush for 100 yards in a game since Dion Lewis had 159 against North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 26, 2009. (Pitt defeated the Tar Heels, 19-17.)

O-Line Stability

Pitt has enjoyed much more stability on its offensive front this season compared to last year. In 2011, due to a myriad of injuries, Pitt was forced to shuffle eight different starting offensive line combinations in 13 games.In 2012, Pitt fielded the same starting five on its offensive front for the first eight games of the year. With junior guard Ryan Schlieper's season-ending right foot injury against Temple Oct. 27, sophomore Arthur Doakes took over the starting role for the subsequent four games. The season-long fixtures on the offensive line have been junior Cory King at left tackle, senior Chris Jacobson at left guard, senior Ryan Turnley at center and sophomore Matt Rotheram at right tackle.

Surpassing 600

Pitt rolled up 626 yards in total offense (397 passing, 229 rushing) against Gardner-Webb, the Panthers' highest single-game production since 1997 when they had 645 yards (470 passing, 175 rushing) in a double-overtime victory at Rutgers (55-48). The Gardner-Webb contest marked Pitt's highest total offense in a regulation game since 1995 when it compiled a school-record 648 yards (333 passing, 315 rushing) in a 66-30 win over Eastern Michigan.

Historic Two-Game Production

In its back-to-back September victories, Pitt produced a combined 1,163 yards in total offense (626 vs. Gardner-Webb and 537 vs. Virginia Tech). This two-game total set a school record for offensive output in consecutive games. The prior mark was 1,154 set in 1992. That season, Pitt had 558 yards vs. Rutgers followed by a 596-yard game vs. Minnesota.

Top-25 Defensive Rankings

The Panthers currently boast top-25 national rankings in five different categories: total defense (16th, 325.83 yards/game), scoring defense (21st, 19.67 points/game), pass efficiency defense (22nd, 112.71 rating), pass defense (24th, 196.75 yards/game) and rush defense (tied for 24th, 129.08 yards/game). Perhaps the most impressive thing about Pitt's defensive production this season? Only four seniors are listed in the latest defensive two deep (and only two senior starters).

Defensive Improvement

Pitt's defense has improved significantly since the opening two games of the season when the Panthers started 0-2 and gave up an average of 422.5 yards. Over its subsequent 10 games, Pitt sliced that average by 116 yards, giving up only 306.5 yards per contest. (Of note: Pitt's averages include a triple-overtime game at Notre Dame Nov. 3.)

Point Prevention

Perhaps Pitt's most impressive improvement has been in scoring defense. In its opening two losses, Pitt gave up an average of 32.5 points. Over the past 10 games, that average has been reduced to 17.1 (During this current 10-game stretch, Pitt surrendered four touchdowns on returns -- two on fumbles and two on punts. Taking out those 28 points, the 17.1 scoring average drops to 14.3.) In 12 total games this year, Pitt is yielding 19.67 points to rank 21st nationally and third in the Big East.

Not in a Rush

In its final two regular-season games, Pitt limited both Rutgers and USF to a combined 58 net rushing yards (29.0 rushing yards/game). The Scarlet Knights had 50 yards rushing, while USF could only muster eight yards.  (The USF game marked the lowest rushing total by a Pitt opponent since the 2002 Insight Bowl when the Panthers held Oregon State to eight yards on the ground in a 38-13 victory.)

In 2012, Pitt has held four opponents under 100 yards rushing. In addition to Rutgers and USF, the Panthers held Virginia Tech (59) and Gardner-Webb (32) under the 100-yard mark. On the season, Pitt is surrendering 129.08 rushing yards per game to rank 24th nationally (tied).

Donald Devastation

Junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald leads the Big East and ranks sixth nationally in tackles for loss with an average of 1.68 per game (18.5 total). Donald's TFL total is the highest by a Pitt player since defensive end Claude Harriott collected 21 TFLs in 13 games in 2002 (1.62 per game). During the 2000 season, defensive end Bryan Knight had 26 TFLs in 12 contests (2.17 per game).

Air Defense

The Panthers boast strong national rankings in defending the pass. Pitt is 24th in pass yardage defense (196.75 yards/game). That average ranks second in the Big East. Pitt is 22nd in pass efficiency defense (second in the Big East) with a strong 112.71 rating. The Panthers have only given up 12 passing touchdowns this season, the second-lowest total among all Big East teams.

Hendricks Leads League

Following an abbreviated 2011 campaign due to a shoulder injury, junior safety Jason Hendricks has bounced back in top form this season. Hendricks leads Pitt with five interceptions. His average of 0.42 INTs per game ranks first in the Big East and 11th (tied) nationally. When the Panthers meet Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl, Hendricks will be trying to become the first Pitt player to snag six interceptions in a season since cornerback Shawn Robinson accomplished the feat in 2000. The last Panther to have seven interceptions in a season was corner Teryl Austin in 1985. 

Turnovers are Key

Pitt is 4-1 this season when forcing multiple turnovers in a game. In contrast, the Panthers are 2-5 when failing to generate more than one turnover.

In its 35-17 win over No. 13 Virginia Tech, Pitt forced a season-high four turnovers, including three interceptions of Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas. Junior free safety Jason Hendricks had two picks while senior strong safety Jarred Holley had the other. Additionally, sophomore linebacker Eric Williams had Pitt's first fumble recovery of the season. Williams recovered a fumble (forced by redshirt freshman defensive end Devin Cook) at the Virginia Tech 10 in the second quarter. Ray Graham rushed for a five-yard TD two plays later to give Pitt a 21-0 lead.

The Panthers matched their season high with four turnovers at USF. Junior cornerback K'Waun Williams, sophomore linebacker Todd Thomas and Hendricks had INTs, while senior defensive end Shayne Hale had a fumble recovery.

Despite forcing three turnovers at Notre Dame (two interceptions and a fumble recovery), the Panthers fell to the No. 4 Irish, 29-26, in triple overtime -- the only time this season when Pitt has lost while forcing multiple turnovers.

Sack Attack

The Pitt defense has recorded at least one quarterback sack in 36 of the past 37 games. The Panthers had a streak of 25 consecutive games with a sack snapped against Youngstown State on Sept. 1. The YSU contest marked the first time Pitt had been held without a sack since Sept. 2, 2010, when they lost in overtime at Utah (27-24). Entering the BBVA Compass Bowl, Pitt has 23 sacks on the season. Junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald leads the Panthers with 5.5 sacks and junior nose tackle Tyrone Ezell is second with 3.5.

Nearly Perfect on PATs

Since the opening of the 2006 season, Pitt has been virtually flawless on its extra-point kicks. The Panthers have missed only three PAT kicks over this current stretch (269 of 272, .989). During his two seasons as Pitt's starting placekicker, senior Kevin Harper has gone 70-of-71 in PAT kicks (.986). Harper is 38-of-38 this year. Harper is also one of only three kickers in the Big East to make all of their extra-point kicks this season (minimum 22 attempts). Syracuse's Ross Krautman (39 of 39) and Connecticut's Chad Christen (22 of 22) are the others.

Kevin Gets His Kicks

Kevin Harper leads the Big East and ranks 13th (tied) nationally with an average of 1.58 field goals per game. Harper has made 19-of-26 field goals this year, a 73.1% success rate. He has made 13 of his past 15 attempts and 15 of his past 18. Harper boasts a season-long field goal of 45 yards, made at Buffalo (Oct. 20) in wet and windy conditions.

Harper Among All-Time Leaders

Kevin Harper leads the Big East in both overall and kick scoring with an average of 7.92 points per game. With 95 points this season, he has matched his career scoring high set last year. Harper's 95 points are the fourth highest single-season kick scoring total in Pitt history.

Through the Uprights

Kevin Harper's 19 made field goals rank fourth on Pitt's single-season list. Last year, Harper made 21 field goals, the second highest total in a season at Pitt. (The school record for single-season field goals is 23 set by Dan Hutchins in 2009.)

Productive Rookie Returner

Redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts is not only a starter on defense but also an impact kickoff return man. Pitts is averaging 25.77 yards per return to rank second in the Big East and 29th nationally. He had a season-long 64-yard kick return against Gardner-Webb. As a team, the Panthers rank 29th nationally and third in the Big East in kick returns with a 23.78 average.

Panther Block Party

In the second quarter of the Oct. 13 Louisville contest, sophomore linebacker Todd Thomas blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown, giving Pitt a 14-7 lead. It was Pitt's first blocked punt for a TD since Oct. 15, 2011, when Andrew Taglianetti's block was returned 10 yards for a score by Antwuan Reed vs. Utah. Pitt has blocked 42 kicks dating back to the 2000 season. During that stretch Taglianetti, a senior safety, leads all Panthers with a school-record six blocks.


--PITT--