BLOG — Ole Miss and Pittsburgh are collectively ready for Saturday’s BBVA Compass Bowl at Birmingham’s Legion Field.The bowl’s official press conference with the two teams was held this afternoon in the bowls of the legendary stadium that has been the site of several classic college football games over the years, including the first two Southeastern Conference title games in 1992 and 1993.
The questions were plentiful for both teams, although the Rebels had more asked of them by reporters and thus more time in front of the microphones. Both coaches also posed for a picture in front of the Compass Bowl trophy. Both seemed ready to play Saturday’s game which will begin at noon and can be seen on ESPN.
Ole Miss was represented by head coach Hugh Freeze, quarterback Bo Wallace and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche Friday.
“We’re thrilled. We’re excited. It’s time to play. I know both teams feel that way. We’ve had an enjoyable week here in Birmingham at the BBVA Compass Bowl. The people have been remarkable hosts and the Sheraton people have been wonderful,” Freeze said in his opening statement. “I think the kids have enjoyed the bowl experience and the culmination of that would be playing well tomorrow and getting a win for our football program. That’s what we’ve turned our attention to over the last 24 hours and on in to tonight. We’re excited to play here at the old gray lady. There have been so many great games played here and hopefully our guys can rise to the occasion and play some good football.”
Ole Miss hasn’t played since a 41-24 win over Mississippi State two days after Thanksgiving and after 15 practices, the players said they were ready for some live game action.
“From the coach’s perspective, it’s probably a little more unsettling than it is for the guys. For me, you go through all the things that could be. You watch how all the other teams perform and some would say that they haven’t performed up to their ability for some reason,” Freeze said. “It’s almost like we’re starting a new season again because it has been quite a long time. You have to depend upon, at some point, your young men who you have prepared to play 12 games this season and that they would get the magnitude of this moment and the opportunity that they have and there would be some leadership provided by guys like these two to get our team ready to play.”
Wallace said that for him, the game felt far away until recently.
“I think last night when tweets started rolling in from fans that were coming and they tell you that they’re on the way and things like that, it sinks in that it’s almost game time,” Wallace said. “You start getting that anxiety. I know I’m excited to go out and start the game.”
Nkemdiche said after playing a game every Saturday for 12 weeks straight, the big break made him hungry to get out and play some football.
“We’re making sure that everybody on the team is hungry and ready to play up to our expectations and do what we’re taught and do what Coach Freeze tells us to do every Saturday,” Nkemdiche said.
Freeze was asked, again, if there was any importance to the game bridging the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
“I think you guys that cover us know that I won’t make too much or too little of a win or a loss. I think when you’re in the building stage of a program like we are that’s dangerous slopes,” Freeze said. “There is no question that winning (Saturday) and finishing a year, to me, one that our team overachieved and into recruiting and into spring ball and the expectations that will be raised for our program will be very important. I don’t think the expectations will change much if things don’t work out tomorrow. In our mind, I’m a guy that likes momentum and a win tomorrow would help us continue the momentum that we have right now.”
The Panthers are making a third straight trip to the Compass Bowl and there was talk that they weren’t motivated to be in Birmingham. That notion was put to rest shortly into the presser.
“Anytime you have another game to play, all our guys are motivated to play,” senior center Ryan Turnley said. “There is something exciting to play this game of college football. I think our guys are real motivated and ready to go.”
Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst, who like Freeze, is in his first season, showed a lot of respect for Ole Miss and what they accomplished this year, especially wide receiver Donte Moncrief.
“We know, trust me we know (about his talents),” Chryst said. “Enough said. Certainly we have a lot of respect for him. We went to the bowl luncheon and the mascot has his name on his back. We know who he is and obviously there are other guys we have to a good job with. We have to play team defense and have to pay to attention to all of them.”
For more on Saturday’s game, see the live game blog that will be up during the contest. (January 4, 2013)