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Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss — Everything You Need to Know for the Sugar Bowl

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Two of the nation’s top passing offenses face off in an SEC / Big 12 shootout.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

January 1, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

No. 16 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. No. 12 Ole Miss (9-3)

How They Got Here

Oklahoma State lost its last two games of the season and appeared headed to the Russell Athletic Bowl before Baylor was upset by Texas, giving the Cowboys the Sugar Bowl bid as the Big 12’s highest available representative. Ole Miss appeared poised for a possible SEC title run after upsetting Alabama early in the season. Three losses (Florida, Memphis and Arkansas) took them out SEC West contention, but the Rebels finished strong with wins over LSU and Mississippi State to earn the SEC’s spot in this game.

When Oklahoma State Has the Ball

The big story in this matchup is who won’t be on the field. Ole Miss’ second-team All-American defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche has been suspended for the game after a bizarre incident in which he fell out of a window at an Atlanta hotel and was later charged with marijuana possession. The junior has declared for the NFL draft. With Nkemdiche sidelined, the Rebels’ defense will have to look elsewhere for a pass rush against an Oklahoma State offense that averages 357.3 passing yards per game (seventh best nationally).

However, the Cowboys may not be at full strength themselves. Starting quarterback Mason Rudolph suffered a foot injury and played only sparingly in the season-ending loss to Oklahoma. His status for the Sugar Bowl is still unknown. If he can’t go, the reins will fall to senior J.W. Walsh. Walsh brings a quarterback run element to the OSU offense, but is not as effective a passer as Rudolph.

When Ole Miss Has the Ball

Rebel quarterback Chad Kelly led the SEC in passing with a school-record 3,740 yards this year. Under his leadership, Ole Miss was tenth in the nation in total offense and put up 38+ points seven times this year. Although the offense leans on the pass, they have been balanced on offense, averaging 181 yards per game on the ground.

Oklahoma State’s defense started off the season strong, giving up an average of just 316 yards per game in their first seven matchups. But when the meat of the Big 12 schedule came around, the Cowboys proved to be a paper tiger and gave up an average of 588 yards and 43 points per game in their last five outings. But Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah has been a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses (second in the nation in sacks)

Keys to the Game

These are two teams headed in opposite directions. Ole Miss was impressive in ending the season on a four-game winning streak while the Cowboys lost their final two games by a combined 45 points. Still, these are two of the nation’s top offenses that both average over 40 points per game so expect this one to be a shootout. Oklahoma State’s James Washington and the Rebels’ Laquan Treadwell are two of football’s best receivers and their respective quarterbacks will test the opposing secondaries deep. On paper, Ole Miss’ offensive balance would appear to give them an edge but, if Ogbah can pressure Kelly consistently, all bets are off.

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