Fireworks Expected in the Sugar Bowl

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Fireworks Expected in the Sugar Bowl

Ole Miss and Baylor have not traded blows on the gridiron since 1975. In that regular-season affair, Baylor won a low-scoring game in Waco by a score of 20-10. The combined 30 points scored in that game cannot come close to matching the fireworks expected in the Sugar Bowl matchup between these two. Indeed, we fully expect these teams to eclipse 30 points early in the second quarter. Fresh off a Big 12 championship win over Oklahoma State, the seventh-ranked Baylor Bears take on the eighth-ranked Ole Miss Rebels in the 2022 version of the Sugar Bowl. Kickoff is slated for New Years Day at 8:45 p.m., and ESPN will televise the affair.

Baylor Should Roll on the Ground

After spending years developing a reputation for big-play potential in various air-raid schemes, Head Coach Dave Aranda‘s Baylor Bears still score points. Indeed, they average over 32 points per game, good for 37th in the nation. That said, they do not rely nearly as heavily on an aerial attack. Instead, they run the ball 60% of the time. This certainly presents a much different look for Baylor compared to their teams of the last couple of decades.

They run successfully, averaging well over five yards per carry, good for 16th in the nation. Abram Smith leads the rushing attack with 232 carries for over 1400 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averages over six yards per carry. Trestan Ebner adds 143 carries for nearly 800 yards and two scores. Signal-caller Gerry Bohanon has also carried the ball 69 times for over 300 yards and nine touchdowns.

This strength matches the Rebels’ biggest weakness. Defensively, they surrender nearly four-and-a-half yards per carry and over 180 yards per game. Ole Miss dials up the pressure early and often, but they have proven vulnerable to a misdirection-based ground-and-pound attack that takes advantage of that pressure upfront that the Rebels bring. Patience, particularly at the second level, would help Ole Miss limit big plays. We doubt, however, that anything could grind the Bears’ runners to a halt.

Matt Corral Poised to Lead, Again

On the other side, everything Lane Kiffin‘s offense does begin with Matt Corral. Indeed, Corral offers true dual-threat abilities. Those skills translated to nearly 4,000 all-purpose yards (just shy of 600 on the ground) and 33 total touchdowns. Corral averages just shy of nine yards per passing attempt, and over four yards per rush attempt. He also completes 68.3% of his passes. Efficiency, in short, is the name of his game.

Another new feature for Aranda’s version of the Bears is a solid defense. They surrender just 19.2 points per game, good for 14th nationally. They are, however, far more vulnerable through the air yielding over 230 yards per game (to just 119 per game on the ground). Corral’s flexibility should allow Kiffin to keep pace at will, even against the stout Bears’ defense.

Playmakers for Both Teams

Ole Miss, by the way, runs the ball pretty well, too. Indeed, they average over 220 rushing yards per game. Behind Corral, the Rebels flex three running backs that have rushed for over 100 carries and over 500 yards each. Jerrion Early, Snoop Conner, and Henry Parrish can all make plays. Outside the box, Braylon Sanders represents the Rebels’ biggest playmaking threat. With 512 receiving yards on just 23 receptions, Sanders has piled up over 22 yards per reception on the season. Meanwhile, Dontario Drummond leads the team in receptions (67), receiving yards (924), receiving touchdowns (eight).

For Baylor, the aforementioned Bohanon also runs an efficient offense completing nearly 65% of his passes for nearly eight-and-a-half yards per attempt. Tyquan Thornton is his favorite target, and Thornton has 61 receptions for 946 yards and nine receiving touchdowns. The Bears also use their tight ends frequently. Ben Sims leads the way with 31 receptions for 361 yards and six receiving scores. Drake Dabney has also seen some action with nine receptions for 83 yards and two scores.

Don’t Overlook the Defense

Though there are certainly fireworks expected in the Sugar Bowl, some of the spectacles will surely come from the defenses. As we noted, the Bears march out an unexpectedly-polished defensive unit. They find their way into the backfield often, compiling 94 tackles for loss on the season. They don’t get to the quarterback quite as often, but their 32 sacks are more than respectable, too.

Terrel Bernard (10.5) and Jalen Pitre (17.5) lead the team in tackles for loss. Pitre also leads the Bears with three fumble recoveries. He adds two interceptions to his impressive stat line on the year. Both Bernard and Gabe Hall each tallied up five or more sacks this season. JT Woods leads the defense with three interceptions on the year. In total, the Bears have picked off 13 passes.

For the Rebels, they rush the passer often. Sam Williams leads the team with 12.5 sacks. Cedric Johnson and Chance Campbell each tallied six or more sacks for the Rebels as well. In total, Ole Miss dialed up 40 sacks on the season. AJ Finley leads the team with three interceptions. Keidron Smith and Deantre Prince add a pair of interceptions each.

Both Baylor and Ole Miss have forced their opponents into 20 turnovers. Clearly, both units feature plenty of playmakers across all three levels. On the whole, however, Baylor’s defense has been lights out, surrendering nearly six points less per contest than the Rebels.

While the respective offenses might get most of the attention, we suspect one team’s defense will make one or two more late plays than the other. That will prove to be the difference in the outcome. As to which team emerges on the plus side, your guess is as good as ours.