No. 7 Baylor beat No. 8 Ole Miss 21-7 Saturday night, as the Bears capped off a historic season in Dave Aranda's second year. In winning the Sugar Bowl for the first time since 1957, the Bears not only notched their first 12-win season in program history, but gained their first New Year's Six/BCS bowl victory since the system was introduced in 1998.
The result was difficult for Ole Miss to swallow, however, as star quarterback Matt Corral was knocked out of the game in the first quarter after injuring his right leg on a sack. The play came on third down when defensive end Cole Maxwell hit Corral and his leg appeared to buckle. Ole Miss missed a field goal on the next play.
True freshman Luke Altmyer came in and played admirably in relief, throwing for for 174 yards and a touchdown on 15 of 29 passing. However, Baylor's defense was dominant against an overmatched Rebels offensive line, posting 10 sacks, breaking up seven passes and forcing three interceptions against Corral and Altmyer combined. Cornerback Al Walcott caught an interception off a Matt Jones tip and took it 96 yards for the first score of the game.
Baylor running back Abram Smith rushed for 172 yards on 25 carries to break the program record for single-season yards rushing, passing Terrance Ganaway's 2011 mark of 1,547 yards. Quarterback Gerry Bohanon struggled, completing 7 of 17 passes for 40 yards. However, he motioned Tyquan Thornton into a throw for a two-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. Freshman Monaray Baldwin scored the Bears' other touchdown on a sweep.
Ole Miss' defense played good situational football, holding the Bears without a third-or fourth-down conversion through the first half. However, the Bears finished the game converting 7 of 15 third downs. Ole Miss converted 5 of 6 fourth-down attempts, but missed two field goals that could have kept the game manageable. Ultimately, the floodgates opened as Baylor rushed for 279 yards in a physically dominant performance.
With the final New Year's Six game in the books, let's unpack all that happened in New Orleans between the Bears and Rebels.
1. Historic season
After going 2-7 in Aranda's first season, few expected Baylor to put together a nationally relevant follow-up. However, the Bears multiplied their wins six-fold, captured their first Big 12 Championship Game victory and winning the Sugar Bowl for the first time in more than 60 years. The Bears were picked eighth in the preseason Big 12 media poll, closer to No. 10 Kansas than the top half. Instead, Baylor will go down as the biggest turnaround in college football in 2022 -- or, at least in a tight battle for the top spot along with No. 2 Michigan.
2. Disappointing finish for Corral
At one point in the regular season, Corral was considered a Heisman contender by leading one of the top offensive units in college football. However, Baylor whipped Ole Miss' offensive line and sacked Corral three times in the first three drives of the game, the final one of which led to the unfortunate injury.
Thankfully, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin revealed after the game that Corral's X-rays came back negative, so hopefully it won't impact the 2022 NFL Draft prospect's stock. Corral is rated the No. 1 quarterback on the CBS Sports NFL Draft Prospect Rankings and No. 10 overall. The threat of injury is why many draft prospects have opted out of bowl games. Hopefully, this injury won't cost Corral.
3. Dominant defense
Baylor's defense absolutely dominated Ole Miss' offensive line, holding one of the nation's top offenses to 322 yards and a paltry 3.6 yards per play. The Rebels averaged just 2.6 yards per carry after clearing five yards for most the season and allowed an astonishing 10 sacks. Corral threw just six passes, but one was his fifth interception of the season.
Not having Corral in the lineup mattered, but Altmyer did his best in relief. Out of his 174 yards passing,142 came on plays of more than 15 yards. Unfortunately, Altmyer was thrust into an unenviable position as Baylor's defense got pressure on him almost immediately after each snap. It's hard to win football games when you can't compete up front, and Ole Miss was unable to overcome it.
Baylor linebacker Terrel Bernard won Sugar Bowl MVP honors after putting together one of the best performances of his career with 17 tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup. JT Woods had two interceptions -- one off Corral and Altmyer. His impact was not felt much in the box score, but nose tackle Siaki Ika collapsed Ole Miss from the inside out.
4. QB of the future?
Kiffin will likely look to the transfer portal after losing Corral to the draft, but the Mississippi native Altmyer made a decent case to start in 2022. The freshman showed great situational awareness, converting on numerous third-and-fourth downs with key runs and downfield passes. On one of the few plays Ole Miss blocked with consistency, Altmyer found Braylon Sanders for a beautiful touchdown pass.
Altmyer has four years of eligibility remaining after playing just four games in 2021. Even if he doesn't earn the starting job in 2022, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about his long-term potential. Altmyer played well against one of the best defenses in college football, all things considered.
5. Baylor has arrived
The Bears have earned six 10-win seasons since 2011, including four appearances in New Year's Six bowls. However, Aranda's squad did what the others could not: get over the hump in the postseason against a fellow top-10 opponent. There are arguments to be had about the best Baylor team in program history, but this iteration is the most accomplished by quite a bit. The future looks bright for Baylor as the new version of the Big 12 approaches. With Aranda leading the way, the Bears are poised to be a perennial conference title contender. If the CFP expands, Aranda's Bears could soon be fighting for even more.