The Rebels missed out on a chance at the SEC title after a whacky 4th-and-25 lateral against Arkansas, while the Cowboys lost their last two games to prevent a shot at the college football playoff. The two teams will now meet in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 1 for a chance at a New Year's Six Bowl win.
Offense - The Cowboys enter the Sugar Bowl with questions at the QB position. Sophomore starter Mason Rudolph suffered a right foot injury against Baylor in late November, and after limited action in the final game of the season against Oklahoma, underwent surgery to repair a small fracture. After an optimistic attitude about Rudolph starting against the Rebels earlier in the month, OSU head coach Mike Gundy is a little less confident now. While Rudolph is still expected to play it seems senior J.W. Walsh will see more snaps than originally expected. Walsh played a good amount in 2015 and was very successful on short-yardage-run situations. The Cowboys utilized both QBs well, as Rudolph threw for 3,591 yards 21 TDs and nine INTs, while Walsh ran for 11 TDs while throwing for 663 yards 13 TDs and one INT. So even if Rudolph doesn't start, Walsh will be able to lead the Cowboys on some scoring drives.
OSU took a committee approach to the running back position this year and didn't see much success. The Cowboys running backs, which includes juniors Chris Carson, Raymond Taylor, Rennie Childs and freshman Jeff Carr, combined for only 11 TDs and currently rank No. 108 in the FBS for rushing offense.
The Ole Miss secondary will have a tough task in covering Cowboys WR James Washington. The sophomore finished the season with 52 receptions for 1,077 yards and 10 TDs. Junior Marcell Ateman and Senior David Glidden should also catch the attention of the Rebel D.
Defense - Ole Miss' style and speed on offense is a familiar challenge for OSU. The Big 12 features some of the nation's most explosive playmakers and high scoring teams. The Cowboys will definitely have their hands full with Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly and the Rebels' talented corps of WRs, inclduing Laquon Treadwell, but this defense has stopped elite playmakers before. OSU's defense held Baylor WR and Biletnikoff Award winner Corey Coleman to only five receptions for 77 yards and no TDs, while holding TCU WR and Biletnikoff finalist Josh Docston to six receptions for 64 yards and no TDs. Treadwell himself was a finalist for the award given to college football's outstanding WR.
Although the Cowboys rank No. 95 in the FBS for total defense, they have one of the nation's premier pass rushers in junior Emmanuel Ogbah. The 6-3 275 pound defensive end is projected by many NFL draft experts as an early first round pick and will line up against Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil in what will be one of the most watched head to head battles of the bowl season. Ogbah finished the 2015 season ranked first in the Big 12 for totals sacks with 13 and TFLs with 17.5.
Other names to look out for are DT Vincent Taylor, LBs Chad Whitener and Jordan Burton, along with S Jordan Sterns and CB Kevin Peterson.
Keys to Victory
- Pressure and contain Chad Kelly
- Take advantage of the Ole Miss' defense through the air
- Build an early lead
Offense - With Kelly and Treadwell leading the way, Ole Miss accounted for 6,177 yards in 2015, while topping the SEC in almost every offensive category. At its best the Rebel offense was unstoppable. Ole Miss will look to replicate those results against Oklahoma State. The OSU defense has a good defensive line and solid linebackers, but as long as Kelly gets time in the pocket he can take advantage of the Cowboy secondary.
With an added emphasis on Laquon Treadwell, look for junior WR Quincy Adeboyejo and sophomore WR Damore'ea Stringfellow to shine in this matchup. Junior TE Evan Engram can also have a big day for the Rebels.
After failing to run the ball consistently for most of the season, Ole Miss improved on the ground late. A big factor was Kelly's increased role in the run game, but junior Akeem Judd's emergence also helped. Although Ole Miss will look for big plays through the air, establishing a run game early will open up those passing opportunities for Kelly. OSU ranks 83rd in the FBS for rush defense, so the Rebels could see some early success running the ball.
Defense - The biggest storyline going into the Sugar Bowl is the suspension of junior DT Robert Nkemdiche, but Ole Miss coaches feel confident in the three-man rotation of redshirt freshman Breeland Speaks and juniors Woody Hamilton and D.J. Jones. Although Nkemdiche's absence won't go unnoticed, look for Speaks to solidify himself as the true starter at that position. Ole Miss also lost DE Fadol Brown to offseason surgery, so expect to see LB C.J. Johnson at his old position at times, along with increased reps for redshirt freshman Victor Evans. Even with injuries and reshuffling the Rebels have some depth on the defensive line, and should provide a strong challenge to an OSU offensive line that gave up 27 sacks this season. This is the type of game that DE Marquis Haynes could provide a big spark for the Rebel defense.
Whether Rudolph plays a significant amount or not, Walsh will definitely see some reps and will be expected to run in certain situations. This is where LB DeMarquis Gates can make his presence felt. Gates has emerged as perhaps the best LB on the Landshark defense, and could play a big role in stopping Walsh on the ground, which is the best shot at running the ball the Cowboys have.
The Ole Miss' secondary struggled this season. The Rebels gave up more than 300 yards passing in four of their last six games, and currently rank No. 50 in the FBS for team passing efficiency defense. A big reason for the Rebel secondary's woes was the injury to star defensive back Tony Conner, who will miss the Sugar Bowl as well. With Conner hurt, the Rebels have to reshuffle and increase reps for young, inexperienced players. Although the group led by seniors Mike Hilton and Trae Elston pulled it together late in the season, they still struggled. Expect OSU to score a majority of its points through the air.
Keys to Victory
- Protect Kelly
- Use run game to open up big passing plays
- Pressure and sack OSU QBs
Analysis & Prediction
This will be a high-scoring game between two similar teams. Both schools feature potent offenses and struggling defensive backfields, so expect the two sides to air it out all day in a fun shootout. In the end, however, Ole Miss has the advantage with Kelly and other offensive weapons. Even if the Cowboys manage to contain Treadwell, Ole Miss' slot WRs and TE can fluster the OSU defense. Kelly's dynamic abilities will also hurt the Cowboys as he'll manage to pickup some big yards on the ground. Although Ogbah will provide a challenge for the Rebel offensive line, expect Tunsil to win a majority of those battles. The Rebel defensive line's quickness and size will also play a big factor in getting key stops against the OSU offense. While the Cowboys will score it won't be enough to keep up with Kelly and Co. Ole Miss wins this one 48-34.