Sugar Sidebar: Terrel Bernard Has Historic Performance

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Photo by Derick Hingle

NEW ORLEANS (January 1, 2022) – Ole Miss came into the 2022 Allstate Sugar Bowl with a daunting offense while the Baylor Bears boasted a relentless defense. Which was going to win out was the key question entering the game.

Behind junior linebacker Terrel Bernard’s prolific performance, it was defense that ruled the day as Baylor held Ole Miss to just 322 yards and seven points in a 21-7 victory. Bernard finished with 17 tackles, the most by an individual in the Sugar Bowl since the 1992 Classic when Notre Dame’s Rod Smith piled up 18 stops in a 39-28 victory over Florida. It was just the eighth time in Sugar Bowl history that a player recorded 17 or more takedowns.

“After the game, I kind of sat down and took a minute to really just appreciate the moment and kind of look back on everything that I have been through with my teammates and the journey that we’ve all had,” said Bernard.

“And it’s been amazing, man. I couldn’t say enough good things about Baylor, about the people here. I think that’s what truly makes this place special, is the people.

“After the game, I was just looking out at everybody standing in front of me, and just thinking about everybody’s story and everybody’s journey to get to this point. I couldn’t be more proud of those guys, man. I’m so excited for everything that’s come their way, and everybody finally getting the opportunity to be seen, like Coach [Dave] Aranda has been saying all week.  I’m just happy for everybody to finally be in that moment.”

Bernard also had a pair of sacks to contribute to Baylor’s Sugar Bowl record 10 sacks in the game. Every time Ole Miss made an adjustment to try to make things happen, it seemed that Bernard was ready and waiting to disrupt the Rebel attack. Though he was not about to take credit for the team performance.

“Our pass rush and the pressures that Coach [Ron] Roberts was calling, a lot of them were getting home,” Bernard said. “I think causing havoc and obviously the interceptions and stuff that we got played a big part in the game. But just the D‑line causing havoc, the corners and safeties doing their part, locking up receivers, and linebackers running around and making plays because the D‑line is taking on multiple blockers.  I think it all kind of came full circle towards the end. I think we had one of our best games this year.”

This was the 75th year that the Miller-Digby Award has been presented and Bernard is just the third full-time defensive player to win the solo honor – for the three CFP Semifinals at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, there have been offensive and defensive MVPs selected. Bernard joins Alabama linebacker Barry Krauss (1979) and Georgia defensive end Marcus Howard (2008) in the exclusive club.

Interestingly, the Sugar Bowl’s official game program included a feature story about defensive players perhaps being overlooked for postgame honors.

LSU defeated Oklahoma for the BCS National Championship in the 2004 Sugar Bowl. Defensive end Marcus Spears had a critical sack and snagged a game-clinching pick-six in the 21-14 LSU victory, but Tiger running back Justin Vincent earned MVP recognition on the strength of 117 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“Justin Vincent was my teammate, and he was phenomenal that night,” said Spears, who played for nine years in the NFL and is now an ESPN commentator. “But we were a great defense, maybe one of the best ever in college football.

“So it would have been nice if one of us had been recognized that night. But it’s like they say, ‘Defense wins games, but offense sells tickets.’ So I get it.”

In this year’s Sugar Bowl showcase, Bernard wasn’t a unanimous MVP selection – fellow defender JT Woods snagged a pair of interceptions, running back Abram Smith bulled his way to 172 yards and cornerback Al Walcott opened the scoring with the longest interception return in Sugar Bowl history (96 yards). However, there was no argument with the honor being presented to the 6-1, 222-pounder.

“I think Terrel had one of his best games,” said Baylor head coach Dave Aranda. “I think these last couple of games, Terrel has been more and more productive. Terrel is a dude that when he understands it and he has got a grasp of all of those things can really let loose and play free.”

“I think it’s a great example for our younger players, for guys that, for sure, are going to have success. I look at next year, maybe in week one or week two, I imagine they will feel as if they have arrived.

“And here’s Terrel with all of this history and all of this accomplishment and all of this championship‑level play, and he’s still striving, man. He’s still working out and grinding to get better, and I think that’s the path right there. So way proud of him.”