Kiffin: Ole Miss Rebs ‘out-coached’ with Corral injury in Sugar Bowl loss to Baylor

Published 1:12 am Sunday, January 2, 2022

By Jake Davis

The Oxford Eagle

On a night filled with disappointment for the Rebel faithful, Ole Miss came up short against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl despite an outstanding performance by one of the most improved defenses in the country.

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The Rebels held Baylor to 40 yards through the air, completely stifling the Bear’s passing attack and forcing them to become one-dimensional.

Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon looked uncomfortable all night, unable to get into a rhythm against the Rebs’ swarming defense.

The Bears were only able to generate 140 yards in the first half and were stymied at every opportunity by an Ole Miss defense that played its best game of the season.

The Rebels gave up just three first downs in the first half, holding Baylor to 1-6 on third down and 0-2 on fourth down.

The energy left the building late in the first quarter when Corral went down with a right leg injury with just under two minutes remaining in the opening period.

The Ole Miss quarterback had his ankle rolled over on a sack and was writhing on the ground in pain before being helped back to the sideline. He was carted back to the locker room for x-rays and returned to the bench after about a half hour later on crutches.

Head coach Lane Kiffin said Corral’s injury was a devastating blow to the team that they were not able to recover from.

“That’s obviously a difficult situation, especially when a kid is playing in the game. So my mind raced with a lot of thoughts right there, and that’s just for my love for him, just like I would if it was my own son in that situation,” said Kiffin. “So maybe I didn’t do a great enough job with the team because I was really hurting for him. I know how much he put into it and what it means to him and for that to be taken away like that really sucks.”

Kiffin did not go into detail about the injury other than to say that it was not serious.

Teammates were quick to praise Corral’s leadership even after the injury, saying it gave them added motivation to go out and try to win for their brother in arms.

“When he came back [out of the locker room], he was just down, because he wanted to be out there, but we kept telling him we got it, we are going to win the game for him,” said running back Snoop Conner. “Obviously it didn’t go that way. But with him to come back out and support us, it was big for us.”

Backup Luke Altmyer took over for the Rebels after the injury and faced a difficult task against one of the premiere defenses in college football.

The true freshman looked overwhelmed when he first entered the game, throwing an interception on his first drive that was returned 96 yards for the first touchdown of the game. It was the longest pick-six in Sugar Bowl history, breaking Hugh Morrow’s record set back in 1945.

Altmyer settled in during the second half and showed flashes of the playmaking ability that earned him the backup role in his first season in Oxford.

“I thought Luke did some good things once he got playing a little bit and made some out-of-rhythm plays, you know, running around,” said Kiffin. “It’s a hard setting. That’s a really great defense. They give a lot of people problems. Not many people score a lot of points.”

“I think the guys had a lot of trust in Luke and I’m personally proud of how he stepped in there. As Coach Kiffin said, it’s a difficult situation and I’m proud of him,” said linebacker Chance Campbell.

Ole Miss leveled the score early in the third quarter on a beautiful 37-yard touchdown pass from Altymer to receiver Braylon Sanders.

He followed that up with perhaps his best drive of the game, going 5-5 through the air for 64 yards including his best throw of the night, a 29-yard dart thrown on the run and across his body to Dontario Drummond.

Baylor opened things up in the fourth quarter starting with a 48-yard touchdown run by Monara Baldwin on a well-designed jet sweep.

“Your defense can’t play lights out forever,” Kiffin said. “Eventually the ball broke and we gave up a big play.”

Playing from behind, Altmyer took to the air in an attempt to write the perfect storybook ending for an historic season, but ended up forcing the ball into coverage too many times and succumbing to Baylor’s relentless pass rush.

“We didn’t do a good enough job calling plays around Luke and making plays, you know, a tough situation to put him in,” Kiffin said.

Baylor put the nail in the coffin courtesy of a two-yard touchdown pass from Bohanon to Tyquan Thorton with 7:24 remaining that pushed the score to 21-7 and ended the hopes of a comeback for the Rebels.

Ole Miss allowed a season-high ten sacks in the game including four in the final quarter. They were unable to hold ground against a Baylor defensive line that has given opponents fits all season.

“We had a perfect storm of, like we just said, ten sacks, four turnovers, three times in the red zone early on. Not only did we not get any points, we actually gave them seven with the pick six,” Kiffin said.

The Rebels, who came into this game averaging over 224 rushing yards per game, were only able to generate 138 yards on the ground on 54 attempts.

Altymer finished the game with 174 yards through the air and a touchdown, but threw two crucial interceptions that put the defense in difficult positions.

Kiffin accepted the blame for the loss after the game, giving credit to the game plan devised by Baylor coach Dave Aranda.

“They out-coached us today on that side of the ball and Dave has done that to a lot of people, including myself at times,” Kiffin said.

The loss provides a disappointing end to an historic season for Ole Miss, one in which they set a program record with ten wins in the regular season.

“I think that [record is] something to be proud of. I think Coach [Lane] Kiffin hit it on the head, where no one really cares about how you start something,” said Campbell. “At the end of the day, it’s about how you finish it.”

“I’m sure when we take a step away from this and get some distance, I’m sure we can pick out some positives; but for right now, it’s not great.”