Something to Prove: Ole Miss, Baylor players ready for Sugar Bowl matchup

Published 10:43 am Friday, December 31, 2021

Get your popcorn ready! 

This year’s Sugar Bowl between No. 8 Ole Miss (10-2, 6-2 SEC) and No. 7 Baylor (11-2, 8-2 Big 12) is one of the most anticipated matchups of bowl season, with both teams eager to prove their might on the national stage.

The two squads play completely different styles but are in remarkably similar positions entering Saturday’s contest in New Orleans. 

Baylor won the Big 12 championship this season after a disappointing 2-7 campaign in head coach Dave Aranda’s first season, while Ole Miss won a program-record 10 games this season after going 5-5 the previous year. 

Both programs are helmed by charismatic second-year head coaches with near-opposite approaches to both the game of football and their coaching style.

Aranda is a defensive guru whose team plays a physical brand of football predicated on ball control and a consistent run game. 

The Bears allowed 30 points just once this season in a loss to TCU on Nov. 6. The team is 36th in total defense, 13th in scoring defense, 15th in run defense and 9th in turnovers forced. 

On the other hand, Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin runs the fastest-paced offense in the country; a dynamic attack that churns out yardage and keeps defenses scrambling. Kiffin’s Rebels are 4th in total offense, 9th in rushing, 20th in passing and 16th in points per game. 

Aranda often shies from the spotlight and is known as one of the most even-keeled coaches on the sideline. 

“I’ve seen him yell a couple times [but] it’s not really his style,” said Baylor offensive lineman Jacob Gall. 

Kiffin, however, is a superstar of college football. The first coach to be a celebrity guest-picker for his own game on College Gameday, his antics endear him to the fanbase and often draw the ire of opponents. His viral moments stole the show in college football this season and the clipboard-tossing, popcorn-munching head coach is just getting started in Oxford. 

In an era where players routinely opt-out of bowl games, these coaches have each created a winning environment that players feed on.

“I love playing for Coach Aranda,” Gall said. “Just coming here and seeing the culture that he’s really created and just being a part of it has just been awesome. I love, every day, being a part of this team. It’s a great experience.”

“We have a brotherhood here,” said Ole Miss defensive end Sam Williams. “It’s a great atmosphere … the family atmosphere we have here, the culture we’ve built, I’m not surprised at all [that nobody opted out].” 

Both teams feel they have unfinished business. These are two tight-knit programs hungry for national recognition.

“We just want a chance to redeem ourselves and make history in Waco,” said Baylor running back Trestan Ebner. “We just love playing with each other and we feel like we have something to prove.” 

“It means everything for them to stick it out and go through some highs and lows,” Ole Miss co-defensive coordinator Chris Partridge said. “It’s a special opportunity for these guys.”