It’s a fantastic matchup in the Sugar Bowl. Defensive wizard Dave Aranda of Baylor goes against offensive chess grandmaster Lane Kiffin of Ole Miss.
By Matt Zemek
Yet, when a high-profile matchup exists on one side of the ball, it is often the other side of the ball which determines the outcome. Ole Miss, having notched its first 10-win season (and Sugar Bowl berth) since 2015, is well aware that while offense is what sells tickets, defense is what has helped the Rebels – and Lane Kiffin – succeed. Kiffin didn’t pay attention to the finer points of being a head coach eight years ago at USC, but he has clearly evolved as a head coach. The 2021 season at Ole Miss is a perfect example. What Ole Miss has achieved this year is precisely what the Rebels need to carry into New Orleans against Baylor, the Big 12 champion and a team which foiled the Oklahoma Sooners earlier this season. Let’s look at the three big keys for Ole Miss in the Superdome.
1 – Watch the fakes and exotics
Baylor does not have a great quarterback situation, and there is uncertainty surrounding which man will guide the Bears’ offense in this Sugar Bowl. Baylor’s offense did not play well against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship Game. This offense often labors in its games. It won a late-November game against Kansas State, 20-10. The defense carries the workload for this team. Accordingly, the Baylor staff knows it will need to resort to tricks and daring plays to get enough offense to win. Ole Miss has to be on the lookout for fake punts, onside kicks, and gadget plays. Don’t rush the punter. Use a punt-safe approach. Be cautious in situations on defense and special teams, so that Baylor doesn’t get unexpected points from unlikely sources. Don’t get caught out of position or unaware.
2 – Keep it rolling on defense
The Ole Miss defense held a very good Tennessee offense to 26 points. It limited the Texas A&M offense and ruined Jimbo Fisher’s November. Ole Miss allowed just 21 points to Mike Leach and the Mississippi State Air Raid. The idea that this Lane Kiffin team is a soft finesse team is total misinformation, if anyone carries that notion. It should be obvious that Ole Miss has a tough, resilient defense which has been central to this team’s evolution and success. Kiffin’s growth as a coach is connected to his ability to field a full team and not neglect his defense. Baylor has a vulnerable, flawed offense. Ole Miss doesn’t have to dominate, but it should definitely be able to contain the Bears and prevent them from scoring anything more than 24 points. That should be enough for the Ole Miss offense, which brings us to our third game key:
3 – Corral’s Crowning Moment
Matt Corral hasn’t opted out of this bowl game. He wants to play and win the Sugar Bowl. This is what we love to see from players in big, traditional New Year’s Day bowl games. Imagine an Ole Miss player making the Sugar Bowl in 1985 but not wanting to play in it. We understand that players have the right to do what they want. It’s their pro career. It’s their choice. We shouldn’t disapprove when they opt out. However, it’s still sad and a loss for college football when that happens. How great it is that Corral is playing this game. It’s a time for him to make a final statement of his greatness and become a Sugar Bowl champion, which gives any Ole Miss quarterback a special place in history. Corral was pounded in the regular season. With five weeks off before this game, Corral – fresh and rested – needs to show everyone why he deserved to be a Heisman Trophy finalist.