BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Minutes before kickoff Saturday, Pitt announced senior running back Ray Graham would miss his final college game with a hamstring injury.
Graham had not practiced with the team on-site in Birmingham, but he and coach Paul Chryst said it was just precautionary. Graham injured his hamstring in bowl preparations in Pittsburgh.
In his absence, Pitt fans got a glimpse of the future, as freshman Rushel Shell earned his first career start. Shell ran for 79 yards on 25 carries in a 38-17 loss to Mississippi.
"[I] found out this morning," Shell said. "It was a great way to wake up and know you can come out here and show the nation what's coming up next year."
Graham finished this season with 1,042 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 3,271 career rushing yards rank second on Pitt's all-time list behind Tony Dorsett (6,082).
Tight end Drew Carswell (foot) and linebacker Shane Gordon (neck) also missed game.
Just short of a legend
Quarterback Tino Sunseri ended his career 7 passing yards behind Dan Marino for second on Pitt's all-time list.
Sunseri had a chance to pass Marino on the final drive, but a pass interference call against Mississippi ensured he would fall short.
Home away from home
As if facing the swarm of red jerseys on the field wasn't enough, Pitt also had to contend with legions of Mississippi sweatshirts, jackets and pom-poms in the stands.
The Rebels enjoyed a substantial crowd advantage at Legion Field, with Birmingham a three-hour drive from their campus in Oxford, Miss.
"It was awesome," Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace said. "It was a home game for us -- that's what it was."
The announced attendance of 59,135 -- the overwhelming majority Rebels fans -- was a BBVA Compass Bowl record.
Both teams received an allotment of 10,000 tickets from bowl officials, which Mississippi quickly sold out. The Rebels even bought 4,000 of Pitt's allotment and sold that out, too.
Sam Werner: email@example.com or on Twitter: @SWernerPG.