OK State has edge over Ole Miss in a high-scoring Sugar Bowl
The Allstate Sugar Bowl pits two of the nation’s most productive passing attacks against each other, and this matchup could easily turn into a high-scoring shootout.
Oklahoma State (10-2) was in the thick of the Big 12 race right until the end of the season, but it lost to Baylor and Oklahoma in its final two games. The Cowboys are anxiously waiting to see if quarterback Mason Rudolph (foot) will be healthy enough to play.
Ole Miss (9-3) was a confusing team in 2015. On one hand, the Rebels upset Alabama in Tuscaloosa and were a crazy overtime play against Arkansas away from claiming a spot in the SEC title game ahead of the Crimson Tide. On the other hand, they were inexplicably trounced by Florida, and lost to a pass-happy Memphis team.
They will also be without their best defensive player in this one, as star DT Robert Nkemdiche — a terrific interior pass-rusher — is suspended.
Who will win this one? Let’s take a look.
Emmanuel Ogbah vs. Laremy Tunsil is a one-on-one battle to savor
The college football bowl season always throws up a handful of individual matchups that catch the eye, and this year is no exception. One of the most interesting is the clash between Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil. They won’t always face off on every down, of course — Ogbah rushes from both sides of the line, with an almost even split — but when they do go head to head, the results could go a long way toward deciding the outcome of the Sugar Bowl.
Ogbah (+39.6 overall grade) led the Cowboys with 12 sacks and 68 total pressures, accounting for 29 percent of all pressures generated by the team. His 14.8 pass rushing productivity score (effectively a measure of pressure per pass rush snap) ranked fifth among 4-3 DEs, and his +34.5 pass rush grade ranked fifth among all edge rushers. In short, he was one of the nation’s elite pass-rushers.
With Tunsil suspended for the opening seven games, Fahn Cooper started at left tackle for Ole Miss, and performed decently for the most part, earning a -2.8 grade. In those seven games, Cooper conceded just one sack and 11 total pressures, giving him a pass blocking efficiency of 96.6, which was 122nd out of 279 qualifying tackles, at that point. In the final five games, Tunsil (+14.0) conceded zero sacks, zero QB hits and just four hurries. That gave Tunsil a 98.5 pass blocking efficiency score, tied for seventh-best in the nation.
Ogbah has had some success against the best left tackles he faced, recording one hit and two pressures against Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, and another hit against Baylor’s Spencer Drango — the only hit Drango conceded all year. Tunsil faced another excellent pass rusher on his return from suspension, when he kept Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett from getting any pressure at all.
Players to watch
Oklahoma State – QB Mason Rudolph: Oklahoma State used a two-quarterback system to good effect this season. Rudolph was the starter and had an excellent year, finishing tied for the third-best passing grade (+43.0) in the nation. One of the best deep passers in the country, Rudolph’s 56.5 percent accuracy on deep passes (those that travel 20+ yards downfield in the air), ranked seventh, and he threw for 1,398 yards and 13 touchdowns on such attempts.
Oklahoma State – QB J.W. Walsh: The second quarterback for the Cowboys, the mobile Walsh (+9.5 overall grade), often took over in the red zone, amassing 13 passing touchdowns and 11 rushing touchdowns despite only leading the offense for one full game. It wasn’t until Walsh was forced to handle the entire load himself that the Cowboys had any real problems scoring points in 2015.
Ole Miss – WR Laquon Treadwell: Treadwell (+16.8) needs little introduction. He bounced back superbly from the horrific leg injury he suffered in 2014 and is the Rebels’ most productive receiver. Treadwell averaged 2.52 yards per route run and is one of the toughest wide receivers to bring down in the country, forcing 16 missed tackles.
Ole Miss – DE Marquis Haynes: With star defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche (+35.2) suspended, the onus will be on Haynes to generate the pressure needed to slow down the Cowboy’s passing attack. Haynes led the Rebels with 11 sacks and 42 total pressures, helping himself to a +10.8 pass rush grade. It’s the second straight season that Haynes has produced at a high-level, after boasting eight sacks and 31 total pressures in 2014.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Ole Miss 35
Oklahoma State will win. It could be a shootout, which means anything can happen, and much will depend on the injury status of Rudolph. If he plays, the Oklahoma State passing game will be at full strength. Earlier in the season, Ole Miss lost to Memphis, who had the most dangerous passing attack they had seen all season. There is little reason to believe the Rebels will cope better against the Oklahoma State’s aerial assault, especially with their best pass-rusher in Nkemdiche not on the field.