Ole Miss football vs. Baylor in Sugar Bowl: Our scouting report, score prediction
NEW ORLEANS — The space between Ole Miss and Baylor is about as narrow as it can be.
No. 8 Ole Miss (10-2) faces No. 6 Baylor (11-2), in the Sugar Bowl on Saturday (7:45 p.m., ESPN). Much of the attention will be about how Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral and the Rebels' fast and efficient offense responds against Baylor's aggressive and opportunistic defense. But the more interesting matchup might come on the other side.
Here is the Clarion Ledger's scouting report and prediction for the Sugar Bowl.
Ole Miss offense vs. Baylor defense
There's a lot to like about Baylor's defense. The Bears have held seven opponents below 21 points and haven't allowed more than 30 points to anyone. The Big 12 champions have snagged the seventh-most interceptions in the FBS, rank top 20 in rushing yards allowed per game and per carry, rank top 10 in passing touchdowns allowed and rank top 25 in tackles for loss per game.
FAMILY FEEL:Ole Miss football has no opt-outs for the Sugar Bowl. Here's the inside story.
WHAT COMES NEXT?:What Ole Miss football stars said about NFL Draft decisions during Sugar Bowl preparations
There's also a lot to like about Ole Miss' offense. Despite playing most of October and November without its top three receivers, the Rebels rank No. 17 nationally in points per game, No. 4 in yards per game and No. 4 in first downs per game. Finally as healthy as they were in September, the Rebels are aiming to get back to their historic pace from the first three games when they averaged 53 points, 635 yards and 34 first downs.
Baylor forced 16 turnovers in eight games against bowl-eligible teams. Ole Miss only lost six turnovers in eight such games and only five FBS teams have turned the ball over fewer times than the Rebels.
Give Baylor credit for forcing mistakes. But Ole Miss doesn't have much of a documented history of making those kind of mistakes, and if the Rebels can keep that trend alive, they should have the advantage in the game's marquee matchup.
Ole Miss defense vs. Baylor offense
Baylor's offense is in an interesting place. The Bears haven't scored more than 30 points in a game since Oct. 30. Quarterback Gerry Bohanon is coming off an injury. Baylor's offense has only scored touchdowns in 10 of its last 20 red zone trips. The Bears haven't converted more than half of their third down attempts in a game since September.
It's a reach to call Baylor's offense bad. The Bears ran for 303 yards and four touchdowns against BYU and ran for 297 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma, both top 20 teams. Bohanon rarely throws interceptions and the Bears rank top 30 in passer efficiency rating and completion percentage.
The way the Bears run the ball against top opponents could be a problem for Ole Miss; against bowl-eligible opponents the Rebels are allowing 216 rush yards per game. With senior linebacker Mark Robinson sitting out the first half because of a targeting penalty, that issue could bubble early.
Still, this is an Ole Miss defense that's held six of the eight bowl eligible teams it faced below their season averages for points scored and hasn't allowed more than three touchdowns in a game since October.
At its best, Baylor has the potential to control pace and put up big numbers against a run defense that's struggled at times. But if both of these teams put up average performances, the Rebels should have a distinct advantage.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise again, the big unknown is which players and how many players each team could be missing. But if we're going off base rosters, I'm taking the Rebels in a game that's close on the scoreboard but never really seems out of their control.
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or email@example.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.