Hugh Freeze is just as pleased that Mackey has already completed his his Ole Miss career in the classroom.
A key player last year for Houston Nutt, Mackey found the spotlight off the field as much as on it. He was scheduled to be the starting quarterback for the season-opener against BYU but was suspended after an arrest for disorderly conduct.
Later in the 2011 season, he was suspended for a team rules violation and missed the last two games.
“For Mackey to turn his story around and start making decisions socially and academically that I hope will long benefit him after the time he spend with us at Ole Miss, I’m very proud of him,” said Freeze, the Rebels’ first-year coach.
Those decisions helped Mackey not only remain academically eligible but graduate.
“He’s got his degree now. I was thrilled to be able to call his mom and tell her that. She didn’t believe me at first. That’s a good story,” Freeze said.
Mackey completed requirements for a degree in criminal justice in the summer.
At the beginning of camp Freeze announced Mackey would move to running back, adding depth to a position that lacked experience beyond starter Jeff Scott.
It was one of three positions Mackey played this season, lining up also at quarterback and wide receiver.
He enters the bowl game with 289 yards and four touchdowns and 319 receiving yards on 24 catches.
Donte Moncrief’s sudden rise to fame has not changed the Rebels’ leading receiver, Freeze says.
Ole Miss opponents already were well aware of Moncrief, following him with double coverage much of the year.
That led to a stretch of four games where Moncrief averaged five catches but didn’t get in the end zone.
That changed in the last two games, and Moncrief’s surge coincided with the student-produced video calling for Freeze to “Feed Moncrief.”
“I haven’t seen much change in him. It was kind of funny how all of that took off. Had he not played well it would have been a flop, but with him playing well and everything kind of catching on at the same time, it’s been kind of a source of excitement for us,” Freeze said.
In the last two games, Moncrief totaled 13 catches for 234 yards and five touchdowns.
On Saturday, Moncrief and the Rebels face a Pitt defense ranked in the top 25 in every major category including No. 22 in pass efficiency defense.
Moncrief ranks fifth in the SEC with 79 receiving yards a game. He has 10 receiving touchdowns, tying the Ole Miss single season mark.
We’re thrilled this has happen, and I think he hass handled it well,” Freeze said.
All about focus
Amid the activities and public appearances that accompany all bowl games, Ole Miss defensive back Charles Sawyer says the team that win will be the team that is most focused come Saturday.
“I think the team that can be composed with all that’s going on around it, and be like, ‘This is the game, and after the game we celebrate,’ that’s the team that’s going to win.”
Pittsburgh is making its third-straight trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl. The Panthers, 6-6, were denied a higher finish in the bowl pecking order with a Nov. 9 loss at Connecticut and needed wins in their final two games to qualify.
A pro-Ole Miss crowd that could approach 40,000 should help energize the Rebels, Sawyer said.
“All the people of Rebel Nation that travel with us really helps us a lot. We’re grateful for them a lot.”