Ole Miss vs. Baylor
Saturday, January 1, 2022 | 7:45 p.m. | Caesars Superdome | ESPN
It's a tale of two bounce back seasons in this year's Sugar Bowl, which features No. 7 Baylor versus No. 8 Ole Miss. Both squads are led by second year coaches, and neither team had a winning record in 2020, but found massive success this season.
Baylor, led by former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, lost to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl two seasons ago in Matt Rhule's final year as head coach. Last season, the Bears took a major step back, finishing 2-7 in Aranda's inaugural campaign. This year, the cerebral defensive guru orchestrated a massive turnaround, finishing 11-2 with a Big 12 Championship.
After a 5-5 campaign in 2020, Ole Miss entered the season with dark horse College Football Playoff hype in coach Lane Kiffin's second year and largely lived up to its billing, finishing with the program's first 10-win regular season, and fielding one of the most explosive offenses in college football. Kiffin's high powered offense will face one of its toughest tests of the season in New Orleans against Aranda's hard-nosed defensive squad on New Year's Day.
Ole Miss Offense vs. Baylor Defense
The Rebels' offense hinges on the health of quarterback Matt Corral, who tallied over 3,900 total yards and 31 touchdowns during the regular season. Ole Miss averaged over 36 points per game, and its 506 yards per game ranks fifth in the nation, largely thanks to Corral's impressive efforts. Eleven of Corral's 31 touchdowns this season were rushing scores, and with several weeks to allow his injured ankle to heal, the Rebel quarterback should be ready to give the Baylor defense fits all night.
The lingering question is can Ole Miss' offensive line protect Corral against this ferocious Baylor defense? Corral was hit by opposing defenses 195 times this year, one of the highest rates in the nation for quarterbacks. Baylor's defense ranked second in the Big 12 with 32 sacks. They'll be gunning for Corral all night.
Corral is joined in the backfield by the two-headed rushing attack of Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Connor. The duo combined for over 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. The Rebels have dealt with some health issues in the receiving corps, but if the stable is healthy, expect big things from Dontario Drummond, who led the team with 924 yards and eight touchdowns, along with Braylon Sanders and Jonathan Mingo.
The Bears feature a top-20 scoring defense, allowing just 19 points per game, which had two of the most impressive goal line stands of the season in the Big 12 Championship, thwarting Oklahoma State's repeated attempts to steal the conference title from them. Led by the hybrid defensive back/linebacker Jalen Pitre, the Bears' defense will have their hands full containing Corral. Pitre was the Big 12 defensive player of the year, tallying 70 tackles, including 17.5 tackles for loss this year.
EDGE: Ole Miss
Baylor Offense vs. Ole Miss Defense
The Ole Miss defense has improved from prior years, but it's still not great. The Rebels rank 101st against the run this season, allowing over 180 yards per game to opposing teams. Unfortunately for the Rebels, the Baylor rushing attack is one of the best in college football. Led by Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner, who combined for nearly 2,200 yards and 14 touchdowns, the Bears run game ranks 17th in the nation with over 214 yards per game.
Combine that with the likely return of injured dual-threat quarterback Gerry Bohanon, and the Bears feature a fearsome ground and pound rushing attack.
Put simply, this isn't your typical soft Big 12 offense. The Bears smash their opponents for four quarters, imposing their will as they see fit.
Both teams are hungry and motivated, having reached tremendous success early in the tenures of each of their head coaches. The outcome of this game will be predicated largely on if these two teams' quarterbacks are fully healthy. If Bohanon and Corral are ready to roll, it should be an entertaining night in New Orleans. With Ole Miss facing maybe the best defense it's seen all year, expect the Bears to win in a close one.
Baylor 27, Ole Miss 24