Baylor defeats Ole Miss in 88th Allstate Sugar Bowl


Matthew Tate

Baylor’s stout defensive performance against the Rebels was a major contributor to their victory in the 88th Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Jude Papillion, Sports Editor

The Baylor University Bears defeated the Ole Miss Rebels 21-7 in the 88th Allstate Sugar Bowl, hosted at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans on New Year’s Day. The seventh-ranked Bears put on an astounding defensive performance to give the eighth-ranked and Lane Kiffin-led Rebels a sour start to the new year. 

Baylor’s Sugar Bowl victory capped off the best season in the Bears’ program history, as they finished 12-2 overall. Their Sugar Bowl victory was their first since they defeated the Tennessee Volunteers in 1957 and came during Dave Aranda’s second season as head coach. 

While Baylor running back Abram Smith rushed for 172 of the team’s astounding 280 rushing yards, the Bear defense was the X-factor in their victory. Baylor linebacker Terrel Bernard finished with 17 total tackles, 10 of which were solo. 

“I think Terrel had one of his best games,” Aranda said postgame. “He’s still working out and grinding to get better, and I think that’s the path right there.”  

Bernard was a contributor to the Bear defense, finishing with a Sugar Bowl record 10 sacks, coming up with two of his own. 

The Bear defense also came away with three interceptions. JT Woods had two interceptions in the game, while Al Walcott picked off the Rebels for the longest interception return for a touchdown in Sugar Bowl history. 

Ole Miss entered the game with their first 10-win season, behind the success of quarterback Matt Corral. Despite being projected as a potential first round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, Corral decided to play in the Sugar Bowl instead of opting out.

“I mean, it was just my teammates,” Corral said prior to the game. “I never questioned it just because, one, I wanted to play, and two, if I was them and in their shoes, and they had a quarterback that was in the same position, I just couldn’t live with what they would think of me just leaving and just being like ‘All right, that was the last game,’ and nobody knowing that was the last game.” 

Corral’s decision to play the game led to all of Ole Miss’s players choosing to play instead of opting out. However, Corral went down with a sprained ankle near the end of the first quarter, forcing him to exit the contest and paving the way for backup Luke Altmyer to enter the game. Corral finished just two for six with 10 passing yards and an interception. 

Altmyer finished with an admirable 174 yards and a touchdown after stepping in for Corral, but Baylor’s defense overwhelmed the Ole Miss offense for the majority of the contest.

Altmyer drove the Rebels to Baylor’s 12-yard line on his first possession of the game, before one of his pass attempts was tipped, intercepted and returned 96 yards for a Baylor touchdown by Walcott. The score would be the only time either team put points on the board in the first half. 

Baylor continued to hold the Rebels scoreless until 9:13 remained in the third quarter, when Braylon Sanders found the endzone on a 37-yard pass from Altmyer. The Rebels then had a huge defensive play of their own after Miles Battle intercepted Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon in the red zone. 

However, Ole Miss failed to convert after the interception with kicker Cale Nation missing from 35 yards out. 

It took the Bears just five plays and 1:55 to score again on their next drive, this time a 48-yard touchdown run from Monaray Baldwin. 

Woods intercepted the Rebels for the second time on the ensuing drive, allowing the Bears to score another touchdown. Despite struggling and finishing with just 40 yards for the entire game, Bohanon found Tyquan Thornton for a two-yard touchdown with 7:24 left in the game in what would turn out to be the final score of the 21-7 game.

After finishing 2-7 in Aranda’s first season, the Bears defied the odds in 2021, winning their first Big 12 Championship Game and their first Sugar Bowl in over 60 years. 

“I look at just all of the change that has happened with Baylor football,” Aranda said after the game. “This was a great team win. We’ve had some team wins throughout the year, and so appreciative of the team. I’m a better person for it.” 

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