For the second time in three years, our Baylor Bears head to New Orleans to face an SEC team in the All State Sugar Bowl. Baylor should have starting quarterback Gerry Bohanon back for this game after missing the conference championship.
Based on the numbers, here’s what I expect to happen on New Year’s Day.
When Baylor has the ball
Overall, Baylor has a good, not great, offense (FEI rank: 30), and Ole Miss has a good, not great, defense (FEI rank: 35). The Bears are incredibly balanced with 216 yards per game passing (82nd in the country) and 215 yards per game rushing (16th). The Rebels allow 246 yards per game passing (95th) and 182 yards per game rushing (102nd).
Why the discrepency between FEI rank and per game stats for Ole Miss’s defense? FEI is opponent adjusted.
Baylor should be able to move down the field with regularity. Baylor earns 54% of available yards per drive (24th) and Ole Miss yields 51% of available yards (90th).
How will Baylor gain these yards? Likely by running the ball. Baylor rushes on 53% of first down plays (21st) and is posed to stay ahead of schedule if they do so in this game. Baylor earns at least four yards on 54% of rushes (13th) and Ole Miss allows rushes to earn at least four yards per carry 56% of the time (127th!!!).
This advantage for Baylor is especially valuable because Ole Miss’s biggest strength on defense is sacking the quarterback on passing downs. The Rebels get to the quarterback 13% of the time on passing downs (6th) while the Bears give up a sack 8% of the time on passing downs (72nd). If Baylor can consistently generate four to five yards per carry, they will nullify this advantage for Ole Miss.
Passing downs are downs where it is unlikely the offense can pick up a first down by running the ball. They include second down with eight or more yards to gain, third down with five or more yards to gain, and fourth down with five or more yards to gain.
Doing well on first and second down is also important because Baylor struggles to pick up first downs on third/fourth and short (aka “power success rate”). The Bears have an OK power success rate of 73% (52nd), but the Rebel’s defense excels here allowing a power success rate of only 61% (28th).
To recap — Baylor should have the opportunity to pick up nice yards running the ball on first and second down. If they can convert on these early downs, Baylor’s offense can avoid the areas where Ole Miss’s defense does best.
Will these yards turn to points? Not necessarily. Baylor scores 2.61 points per drive (35th), and Ole Miss allows 2.13 points per drive (62nd). While the difference is still in favor of the Bears, it is not quite as large as the aforementioned advantages.
When Ole Miss has the ball
Baylor’s offense versus Ole Miss’s defense is important, but the real battle will be when Ole Miss has the ball. Ole Miss has a great offense (FEI rank: 7th) and Baylor has a great defense (FEI rank: 15).
Like Baylor, Ole Miss is a balanced team on offense. They pass for 282 yards per game (21st) and run for 224 yards per game (9th) behind the talents of early-Heisman hopeful and likely first-round NFL pick Matt Corral.
Corral completes 68% of his passes (15th among eligible QBs) with 8.8 yards per attempt (18th) and only one “Spender Sanders v Baylor in CCG” quantity of interceptions for the whole season (read: 4). Corral also runs the ball significantly more than most QBs with 145 attempts this year (7th in the country), 4.1 yards per carry (28th), and 11 touchdowns (tied 4th).
Enough about Corral individually — how does Ole Miss match up against Baylor? For starters, both teams are in the top 25 in points per drive: Ole Miss with 2.95 points scored (18th) and Baylor with 1.74 points allowed (23rd).
Ole Miss is going to get yards, and they rarely will go three-and-out. The Rebels gain 60% of available yards per drive (8th) and earn at least one first down on 79% of drives (21st); the Bears allow teams to earn 44% of available yards (44th) and earn at least one first down on 71% of drives (59th).
On the ground, Ole Miss is pretty similar to Baylor statistically. They earn at least four yards on 53% of their rushing plays, but they struggle on third/fourth down and short with a power success rate of only 65% (85th). On defense, Baylor excels in limiting runs to fewer than four yards 42% of the time (15th) but struggles on third/fourth and short allowing a power success rate of 70% (77th).
Neither team is particularly great at protecting / sacking the QB in general, but Baylor does get to the QB on 7% of standard downs (23rd) while Ole Miss allows sacks on 5.3% of standard downs (64th).
Standard downs are the opposite of passing downs. They include second down with seven or fewer yards to gain, third down with four or fewer yards to gain, and fourth down with four or fewer yards to gain.
Do not expect Ole Miss to turn the ball over multiple times. Only 7% of their drives end with a turnover (12th). Will that change when they face a Baylor defense that forces a turnover on 17% of drives (7th)? We’ll find out soon enough!
How does Baylor beat Ole Miss?
Ole Miss lost two games this year — once against Alabama (12-1) and once against Auburn (6-6). Alabama beat Ole Miss by holding their offense to a season-low 2.3 yards per carry (Corral to 3 yards rushing on 10 attempts) and near perfect red zone offense (7 trips, 6 TDs). Auburn beat Ole Miss by playing stellar red zone defense (7 trips, 2 TDs) and efficient offense on early downs (12 first down conversions in the first half on first and second downs).
Can Baylor replicate their success?
Baylor holds opponents to 3.5 yards per carry (18th), which is a full yard more than Alabama allows. Statistically, the most similar defenses that Ole Miss has played are Mississippi State (3.4 ypc), Auburn (3.5 ypc), and Texas A&M (3.7 ypc). Ole Miss ran for 3.5 ypc, 4.0 ypc, and 4.6 ypc in those games, respectably.
In the red zone, Baylor scores 88% of the time (36th) but gets a touchdown 68% of the time (25th). On defense, Baylor allows opponents to score 87% of the time (100th), but their opponents only get a touchdown 56% of the time (tied 42nd).
Baylor needs to play at the top of their game, but they are definitely capable of stifling run defense, scoring in the red zone, and moving the ball efficiently on first and second downs. And while they haven’t done it consistently, we all know that Baylor can put up a wall on the one yard line.
If Baylor can do all of these things, I think they win this game.