Some notes here from the BBVA Compass Bowl “trophy” presser at Legion Field.
Pitt spoke first, then Hugh Freeze and his players arrived, and he and Pitt coach Paul Chryst posed with the BBVA Compass Bowl trophy.
A setting like this typically yields little in the way of new information. That’s especially true when we’ve been writing about this game for as long as we have.
There was light moment when a question was addressed to the players, and Chryst spoke up and answered. The player to his right said he agreed with coach.
The questioner, correctly identifying where this was headed, just stopped the line of responses and said, “OK, does anybody disagree with coach?”
No one did.
Here’s the Freeze video:
The game will match two first-year coaches, both with 6-6 records in their debut seasons.
There’s a good bit of buzz Chryst around Pitt and optimism for the future.
It’s a similar feeling for Ole Miss and Freeze.
A Pitt beat writer asked the attending Ole Miss players, Denzel Nkemdiche and Bo Wallace, to offer their opinions on Freeze.
“Coach Freeze came in, and we needed something new, we wanted something new. We wanted something different. We wanted to win. He came in and did it out of love. He showed love. He’s a players’ coach. There’s nothing that goes on that you can’t talk to him about. He’ll try and help you or tell you what to do. He’s always there when you need him. He’s not going to take it easy on you. He’s going to get the best out of you,” Nkemdiche said. “I love playing for him.”
Said Wallace: “He totally changed the culture. When I first got here in January stories I’d heard, you don’t hear about that any more. I talked to teammates I played with at Arkansas State my freshman year. They said, just buy in, once you buy in that’s when you start winning games. You could see mid-way through the year when we bought in, that was when we started becoming successful.
Of course Wallace’s shoulder comtinues to be a story line.
He gave it the strongest endorsement that either he or Freeze have given it sense the Egg Bowl.
“I think it’s ready to go. Pat and the trainers do a great job, and I’m in there every day working with them. It’s as good as it’s been all season,” Wallace said.
The tempo offense was a subject of some discussion. In theory, an Ole Miss team that hasn’t played in 42 days ought to be able to run the tempo a little more.
The Rebels were pretty successful when they ran it this season. They didn’t run it as much as Freeze would have liked because of depth issues on the offensive line and on defense.
Freeze said the fact that there isn’t much tempo game among Big East teams could be an advantage for Ole Miss, but he quickly negated that advantage by saying that Pitt has had more than ample time to preapre. True. Forty-two days is a lot of time.
Still, expect to see more tempo from Ole Miss.
Freeze: “We’re going to be who we are. Certainly, we like to live in that world as much as we can. There’s been a considerable amount of time since our last game. I think there will be an adjustment period. As I watch these other bowl games that seems pretty typical for the people who have had the long layoff. We hope we can do it the entire time. It’s advantageous for us we feel like.”
Wallace is about going as fast as the Rebels can go for as long as they can go.
“The biggest thing is staying on schedule and not putting Denzel and those guys in bad spots. I want to go fast the whole time. It creates a huge advantage for us, and when we’re going that full-speed offnese, I feel like that’s when I’m at my best.”
Freeze didn’t commit to a certain amount of time for the tempo offense.
“As long as we’re winning first down and not putting our defense in less than desirable positions, we’ll continue to go at that pace.”
Pitt players believe they’ll be able to keep up.
“They like to change it up throughout the game and show different types of tempo. For our sake on defense we just have to get lined up and make sure everybody’s on the same page, communicate out there so we can have the most successf for our defense,” Pitt safety Jarrod Holley said.
From the Pitt perspective, there were anxious moments when the Wisconsin job came open, thoughts that Chryst, a successful offensive coordinator for the Badgers and a Madison native, would return as head coach.
“I’m proud to be here, not just with these three seniors but with this team,” Chryst said. “It’s been good bowl preparation for us, and it needs to be, because we’re playing in my opinion a very good Ole Miss team.”
Chryst quickly moved past the question of what a win would mean in terms of momentum for next year. He said he’s still focused on this year.
He also had little to say about the chance to following Louisville’s lead as an in-coming ACC team that could add an SEC bowl-game win to its resume.
“This is about Ole Miss and Pittsburgh,” Chryst said.
Pitt players don’t believe the fact that they’re making a third-straight trip to the Birmingham bowl will affect their motivation.
Any time you have another opportunity to play a game, all our guys are motivated,” Holley said. “It’s exciting to play college football. Our guys are motivated and ready to go.”