NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Al Walcott set a Sugar Bowl record with a 96-yard interception return, Monaray Baldwin raced 48 yards for the go-ahead score on an end around, and sixth-ranked Baylor beat No. 8 Mississippi 21-7 Saturday night as injured Rebels quarterback Matt Corral watched from the sideline on crutches.
Abram Smith rushed for 172 yards to finish with a single-season record 1,601 for Big 12 champion Baylor (12-2), which won 12 games in a season for the first time. The defense did the rest, finishing with 10 sacks — two by game MVP Terrel Bernard — and three interceptions.
Corral, a dual-threat star QB and projected high-round NFL draft choice, became one of the big stories of the Sugar Bowl because of his decision to play, rather than opt out and minimize injury risks in advance of turning pro.
Corral had accounted for 3,936 total yards and 31 touchdowns during the regular season. But his hopes of going out with a flourish in a New Year’s Day bowl faded on Ole Miss’ third series, when he was sacked from behind by Cole Maxwell amid a cluster of players. When he was helped up and off the field, Corral didn’t put weight on his right foot.
He was carted to the locker room for X-rays before returning to the sideline wearing his red undershirt and using two black crutches.
Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin then put his offense in the hands of freshman Luke Altmyer, who led Ole Miss (10-3) to the Baylor 12-yard line on his first series, only to have his pass to the left flat tipped and then intercepted by Walcott, who raced down the right sideline for the only points of the first half. The interception return was the longest in the Sugar Bowl’s 88-game history.
But the Rebels’ defense managed to hold Baylor’s offense scoreless through three quarters, allowing Ole Miss to tie it on Altmyer’s 37-yard timing pass down the right sideline to Braylon Sanders.
Ole Miss was poised to take the lead when Cole Nation lined up for a 35-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, but his kick sailed just wide right.
Baylor responded with Baldwin’s first collegiate touchdown on a season-long run for the seldom-used freshman, who entered the game with five rushes and one catch.
Altmyer’s second interception, picked off by safety J.T. Woods on a pass over the middle, set up Gerry Bohanon’s 2-yard scoring pass to Tyquan Thornton for the game’s final score.
Baylor was served well all season by a formula of good defense and ball control. After Corral’s injury and a pick-6 on Altmyer’s first series, the Bears’ odds of making that work only got better. Woods had two interceptions.
Ole Miss’ defense kept the Rebels close after Corral’s injury, shutting out the Baylor offense until less than 12 minutes remained. But with Corral out, Kiffin’s SEC-leading offense wasn’t the same despite flashes of playmaking by Altmyer, who was 15 of 29 for 174 yards. It didn’t help that first-string place kicker Caden Costa was suspended for a banned substance. Nation missed two field goal attempts, the first from 49 yards in the first quarter.
Baylor: Opens the 2022 season at home against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 3. The Bears have 14 senior starters to replace, including Smith as well as their top two receivers, Thompson and R.J. Sneed. They’re also losing Big 12 defensive players of the year Jalen Pitre.
Mississippi: The Rebels open their 2022 season at home against Troy on Sept. 3. Altmyer will be a frontrunner to replace Corral. Ole Miss also will be looking to fill voids at receiver with Dontario Drummond, Jahcour Pearson and Sanders all finishing their careers. Top running back Jerrion Ealy could turn pro. On defense, the Rebels will be looking for an edge rusher to replace sack leader Sam Williams, who is moving on to the NFL.