2012 BBVA Compass Bank Bowl - SMU 28, Pitt 6

Posted Jan 8, 2012

2011-2012 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2012 BBVA Compass Bank Bowl - Pitt vs. SMU

2012 BBVA Compass

SMU vs. Pitt

- 2011-2012 CFN Bowl Central

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National Rankings
51st Total Offense 83rd
37th Total Defense 41st
70th Scoring Offense 69th
53rd Scoring Defense 33rd
98th Rushing Offense 68th
29th Run Defense 24th
22nd Passing Offense 75th
62nd Passing Defense 71st
120th Turnover Margin 59th
Position Rankings
relative to each other
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
S   P
3 Quarterbacks 2
1.5 RBs 3
3 Receivers 3
2 O Line 2
4 D Line 4.5
4 Linebackers 4
2.5 Secondary 3
2 Spec Teams 2.5
3.5 Coaching 1.5
SMU 28 … Pitt 6
- CFN Thoughts on the Game

SMU: The Mustangs made seven sacks … J.J. McDermott completed 16-of-25 passes for 239 yards and a score, and he ran for a touchdown. … Jared Williams caught 11 passes for 40 yards. … Darius Johnson caught seven passes for 120 yards and a score. … Matt Stone averaged 45.4 yards per punt putting three of the five inside the 20. … Ja'Gared Davis led the team with nine tackles with a sack and a forced fumble. … Margus Hunt made five tackle and three sacks.

Pitt: The Panthers finished with ten rushing yards … Tino Sunseri completed 19-of-28 passes for 183 yards with a pick. … Isaac Bennett ran ten times for 22 yards. … Ronald Jones caught six passes for 36 yards. … Max Groder made nine tackles with a tackle for loss. … Myles Caragein made six tackles with 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.

(AP) BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- SMU has not lost this season when it scores first or puts up at least 21 points.

The Mustangs were quick to check off both benchmarks to give coach June Jones his 100th collegiate win.

SMU put up three first-quarter touchdowns, including scoring runs and passes by J.J. McDermott, to beat Pittsburgh 28-6 Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

"I'm really proud of the defense," Jones said. "Really the defense has been that way all year. They've been the reason we've won eight games. We haven't been as sharp on offense as we've been in years past."

Rishaad Wimbley ran for two scores for SMU (8-5), which tied a school record by playing in its third straight bowl under Jones. Before Jones' arrival in in 2008, SMU had played in the postseason since beating Notre Dame in the 1984 Aloha Bowl.

Jones said he didn't talk to his players about his approaching milestone, but he said his 100th win as a college coach "means a lot to me."

"I'll never forget these guys for that win," he said.

McDermott completed 16 of 26 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown, to Darius Johnson early in the first.

Pittsburgh (6-7) was held without a first down and fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter. Kevin Harper kicked field goals of 32 and 34 yards.

The Panthers were coached by defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who took over after Todd Graham left to coach at Arizona State. It was Patterson last game before he starts his new job as the defensive coordinator at Arkansas State.

""The one thing I kept challenging everybody on the team to do is to finish," Patterson said, adding there were many distractions for players and coaches.

"But I felt really good about the effort that they gave," he said. "They represented as well as they possibly could."

Pittsburgh's newly hired coach, former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, flew into Birmingham on Saturday and watched the game from the press box level.

Chryst visited with Pitt alumni and fans before the game. He said he wanted to maintain a respectful distance from the team until the game ended, signaling the start of his era.

"This is the culmination of their season," Chryst said. "This wasn't me."

Chryst said he has "a lot of appreciation for how they're finishing things out" after Graham's unexpected exit.

McDermott beat Pitt's blitz when lobbed a 50-yard touchdown pass to Johnson for the Mustangs' first touchdown.

Johnson had seven catches for 120 yards and was named the game's MVP. The 50-yard catch was the longest in the six-year history of the bowl.

"We talked about it on the sideline and we knew it was going to be open, Johnson said. "I just had to make the catch."

After McDermott's 1-yard run capped an eight-play drive to push the lead to 14-0, Ja'Gared Davis hit Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Taylor Reed at the Panthers' 27.

McDermott's 19-yard pass to Cole Beasley set up Wimbley's 2-yard touchdown run.

Wimbley added a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Pitt was making its second straight appearance in the bowl after beating Kentucky in last year's game.

A series of key plays went against Pitt in the second quarter. Following the field goal, Pitt recovered an onside kick, but the officials said there was an inadvertent whistle before the ball was recovered. Pitt fans booed as the officials said another kickoff was necessary.

"Both officials came over and apologized to me and said they made a bad call," Patterson said. "They were very apologetic. There's nothing you can do about that. But that was a big momentum-changer. It kind of got us into the game a little bit. We were fired up from that point on."

With SMU still leading 21-3 later in the quarter, Pitt drove from its 16 to a first and goal at the Mustangs' 10. On third down from the 5, Sunseri's pass bounced off tailback Isaac Bennett. The deflection was caught by SMU linebacker Stephon Sanders for an interception.

The half ended with Pitt again coming away with no points at the end of a long drive. Harper's 47-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright to end a 14-play drive.

Jones said SMU running back Jared Williams suffered a probable broken left leg in the fourth quarter. Williams' left leg was placed in a brace before he was placed on a stretcher.

"That's probably a better injury to have than tearing up a knee," Jones said.

Williams led the Mustangs with 11 carries for 40 yards before the injury.

Sunseri was 19 of 28 passing for 183 yards with an interception.

Attendance was 29,726.

Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5) Jan. 7, 1:00, ESPN

Here's The Deal … Pitt must be suffering from a serious case of déjà vu as it begins preparations for its postseason game.

At this time last year, the Panthers were reeling from the firing of Dave Wannstedt and the messy dismissal of Mike Haywood as it attempted to get ready for the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. Flash forward to today, and the team is embroiled in an eerily similar situation. This time, the man in charge, Todd Graham, left on his accord, unexpectedly filling the Arizona State opening. As fate would have it, Pitt is back in Birmingham for a January game, with an interim head coach calling the shots. Playing the part of stop-gap head coach Phil Bennett at this year's BBVA Compass Bowl will be Keith Patterson, the team's defensive coordinator during the regular season.

The program had high hopes for Graham, but that notion is now a distant memory. It's back to the drawing board for AD Steve Pederson, whose last two hires wound up being colossal botch jobs. For what it's worth, Graham didn't fare particularly well in his only season in Western Pennsylvania, struggling to pull out close games, and never quite getting his kids up to speed with the new staff's faster tempo offense. Of course, it didn't help to lose RB Ray Graham, whose breakout season was curtailed by an injury on Oct. 26. In the final tally, the Panthers beat just one opponent, Louisville, participating in the postseason, and are 1-3 outside of Heinz Field.

In a twist that can only be described as ironic, Graham would still be in Pittsburgh had talks between Arizona State and current SMU head coach June Jones not broken down earlier in the month. Jones appeared headed for Tempe until a backlash from inside the program ended the courtship. For the Mustangs, it was a sigh of relief. Although the team has sort of gone sideways since winning five of the final six games of 2009, there's little doubt that it's better off with Jones at the helm. Of near equal irony, SMU has agreed to become a member of the Big East, filling an opening made possible by Pitt's departure to the ACC.

Over the last two seasons, SMU has gone 14-12; the mark is either terrific when considering where the Mustangs were pre-Jones, or lackluster compared to the expectations entering 2010. The situation became particularly frustrating this fall. At the halfway point in the season, the school was 5-1, a Conference USA contender that had upended heavily-favored TCU and defending league champ UCF in successive weeks. Maintaining a high level of play, though, proved elusive, as SMU won just twice more, and was thoroughly outclassed against conference honchos Southern Miss, Tulsa and Houston.

Players to Watch: Both teams hope to take some heat off marginal quarterbacks. Both, however, are without injured workhorses, Pitt's Graham and SMU's Zach Line. The Panthers hope to employ a committee involving rookie Isaac Bennett and veteran Wisconsin transfer Zach Brown, who's expected back from a bruised sternum. Brown also has soft hands out of the backfield, providing Tino Sunseri with a target on screens and swing passes. The Mustangs' loss was even greater, because it happened too late in the year for the staff to get backups adequate reps. They have a pair of true freshmen options of their own, Jared Williams, who ran for 80 yards in the finale with Rice, and 265-pound converted NG Rishaad Wimbley, who thundered for 115 yards and two scores in that same game. Wimbley is worth keeping an eye on long-term if he maintains his weight.

The Mustangs' quest to establish the line of scrimmage is going to be a bit tougher than Pitt's—the Panthers boast a tremendous defensive line that'll dig its heels in, and collapse the pocket. The unit is quick and physical, blending the inside toughness of seniors Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein with the outside speed of Aaron Donald and Brandon Lindsey. Donald has been the unexpected revelation of the group, earning Second Team All-Big East honors as a sophomore after collecting 15 stops for loss and 10 sacks. Just 6-0 and 270 pounds, he moves with cat-quickness, and uses leverage to his advantage.

Of course, SMU feels it can wreak havoc in the backfield as well. No, it doesn't have as much frontline talent as Pitt, but the Panthers are wretched in pass protection. How bad? No school in the FBS yielded more sacks, and it wasn't even close. The Mustangs will take whatever measures are necessary to keep the Pittsburgh O-line resembling a swinging gate. That'll mean a traditional pass rush from ends Taylor Thompson and Marquis Frazier, and well-timed blitzes when from the second level. Linebackers Taylor Reed and particularly Ja'Gared Davis have a penchant for getting off the snap and into the opposing backfield in a hurry.

Sunseri's head must be spinning these days. Recruited by Wannstedt to be a pro-style quarterback, he spent the last 11 months adapting to Graham's attack, which requires its quarterbacks to have quicker feet and a fast trigger. Now, he's staring at the prospect of a third system in three years, which might wind up being a blessing or a curse. Actually, you have to figure that the only way is up from here since the junior had all kinds of problems adjusting to the new playbook. He's thrown as many picks as touchdowns passes—10—and has taken a beating playing behind the hapless Panthers offensive line.

Pittsburgh will win if … it affords Sunseri the time he needs to pick apart a sketchy SMU secondary.

No, the Mustangs pass defense wasn't horrible this season, but it wasn't exactly an asset either. In fact, of the 411 attempts it encountered, only five were intercepted, which was fewer than all but five teams in America. With SMU sitting back, and not taking many chances, Sunseri hopes to exploit the defense on short and intermediate routes. He's liable look in the direction of TE Hubie Graham or one of his rangy wide receivers, Devin Street or Mike Shanahan. When given a chance to operate and survey the field, the quarterback has displayed an ability to spark the offense. The key, however, is that gets the time needed to do his job without being under constant duress.

SMU will win if … QB J.J. McDermott puts the shoot back in the run-and-shoot.

So much more was expected from the Mustangs passing attack, which has thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes this season. Kyle Padron began the year as the starter, but was benched in September in favor of McDermott. While the New Mexico State transfer was erratic, a herniated disc injury to Padron essentially left the coaching staff with only one option. Against Pitt, which has only eight picks in a dozen games, the airways will be the easier path to the end zone. It'll be up to McDermott to spread the ball around to his receivers with as few costly turnovers as possible. There will be no shortage of viable targets, led by First Team All-Conference receivers Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson.

What Will Happen: Yeah, losing Graham to the Pac-12 was a shocker, but the time away from the field is going to serve Pittsburgh well.

With injuries mounting and confidence sinking, the Panthers were mentally and physically exhausted in early December. At the beginning of January, though, they're going to play with a little extra bounce in their step for Patterson. SMU, on the other hand, will have a difficult time recovering from a dreadful second half of the season. This is a program that, save for the TCU game, wilted in the face of stiffer competition all year. Pitt is in a position to win the battles at the line of scrimmage, springing its own backs, and spending a lot of time in McDermott's mug. Although crisp execution will come at a premium at Legion Field, the Panthers will exercise enough muscle and grit to win a second straight bowl game for an interim leader.

CFN Prediction: Pittsburgh 28 … SMU 20
- Click For Latest Line From ATS: Pitt -5.5   O/U: 48.5 
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It's a great running back matchup between Zach Line and Ray Graham - oh, wait. It's not, and the two offenses aren't anything special. June Jones isn't at Arizona State, and that might make all the difference in an upset performance. The team might have stunk down the stretch, but it'll move the ball on a mediocre Pitt defense.

By Richard Cirminiello 
June Jones desperately needs to use his 15 practices and bowl game to get his Mustangs back on track following a disappointing final two months of the season.

By Matt Zemek
Where have you gone, Dan Marino and Eric Dickerson? The 1983 Cotton Bowl turns its lonely eyes to you.

By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee  
June Jones is apparently a hot commodity. Will he be coaching the Mustangs in this one?

By Russ Mitchell
If a football game happens in a forest, and no one is there to watch it, does it count? Ask whoever is playing in the BBVA Compass Bank Bowl.

By Terry Johnson
Will SMU be able to protect QB JJ McDermott against a Pittsburgh defense that averages 3 QB sacks per game?

By Phil Harrison
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN
Where is the splash that June Jones was supposed to make? He did at least make SMU competitive and in bowl consideration, but he'll have his hands full against Pitt.
Best Bowl Moments
Best Mustang Bowl Moment: SMU has only recently returned to the postseason on an annual basis, a welcome change from the two decades which followed the 1987 death penalty. However, those many dry years should not lead one to think that the school lacks history in this area. The Mustangs' most memorable moment came in the 1983 Cotton Bowl, a 7-3 win over Pittsburgh to finish the season with no losses and just a tie to Arkansas. Though Dan Marino was the more heralded quarterback entering the game, Lance McIlhenny was the hero, scoring the game's only touchdown and deftly running the option with the help of Eric Dickerson and Craig James.

Best Panther Bowl Moment: Ranked No. 9 before the 1976 season began, Pittsburgh wrapped up the national championship with an authoritative 27-3 win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Heisman winner Tony Dorsett rushed for a Sugar Bowl-record 202 yards, and the Panther defense one-upped the vaunted Junkyard Dawgs, keeping the Bulldogs out of the end zone for the first time all season.

PapaJohns.com/BBVA Compass Bowl History
2011 Pitt 27, Kentucky 10
2010 Connecticut 20, South Carolina 7
2008 Rutgers, 29, NC State 23
2007 Cincinnati 31, Southern Miss 21
2006 South Florida 24, East Carolina 7

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