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No. 8 Ole Miss lost its best player and emotional leader in junior quarterback Matt Corral, and never quite recovered in a 21-7 loss to No. 7 Baylor in the Sugar Bowl at the Superdome in New Orleans Saturday night.
Corral injured his right leg in the first quarter and never returned as the high-powered offense of Ole Miss (10-3) never showed up.
Baylor (12-2) finished its second season under coach Dave Aranda as Big 12 champions with a school-record dozen wins after going 2-7 in 2020.
“This group is a selfless group and plays for each other,” Aranda said. “They continued to battle. It’s a special group. You saw a great team tonight.”
Inexperienced true freshman Luke Altmyer replaced Corral at quarterback for the Rebels and struggled throughout the night, completing 15 of 28 passes for 174 yards with two interceptions.
X-rays of Corral’s leg were negative, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said after the game, but he was unable to return to his last game as an Ole Miss player. He completed 2 of 6 passes for 10 yards with an interception and rushed seven times for 17 yards.
Altmyer, who came into the game with 5 completions in 9 attempts on the season, did drive the Rebels inside the red zone in the second quarter, but on third-and-six from the 11-yard line, his pass was tipped by linebacker Matt Jones into the arms of cornerback Al Walcott. And Walcott returned it 96 yards for a touchdown and 7-0 lead with 10:16 to go before halftime.
Altmyer tied the game 7-7 on a 38-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Sanders with 9:13 to play in the third quarter. The Rebels had a chance to take a 10-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Cale Nation missed a 35-yard field goal wide right. He missed a 49-yard attempt with 1:48 to go in the first quarter just after Corral’s injury.
Then Baylor took over the fourth quarter. Monaray Baldwin scored on a 48-yard run for a 14-7 lead with 11:14 to play. Then safety JT Woods intercepted Altmyer and returned it 16 yards to the Ole Miss 15-yard line. Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon cashed that turnover in for another touchdown on a 2-yard pass to wide receiver Tyquan Thornton for the 21-7 lead with 7:24 to go.
Baylor collected 10 sacks on the night. Linebacker Terrel Bernard was named the most valuable defensive player after making 17 tackles with two of those sacks.
“It feels amazing,” Bernard said. “I can’t say enough good things about coach Aranda.”
Tailback Abram Smith led the Bears with 172 yards rushing on 25 carries. Bohanon completed only 7 of 17 passes for 40 yards. Ole Miss outgained Baylor, 322 to 319 yards, but could not overcome the three interceptions.
“I’m going to miss a lot of these guys,” Aranda said.
Kiffin’s second Ole Miss team became the first team in Rebels’ history to win 10 games in a regular season.
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