82nd Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl ~ January 1, 2016
#12 Ole Miss 48 (Final: 10-3)
#16 Oklahoma State 20 (Final: 10-3)
Quarterback Chad Kelly said later the play he called was, “Laremy, go score.”
The most memorable play from a dominant Ole Miss performance was the last one of the first half with the Rebels ahead 27-3, and holding the ball at the Oklahoma State 2 with five seconds to go.
Without giving a field goal attempt a serious thought, Kelly rolled right, twisted around and threw a lateral left to 6-foot-5, 300-pound tackle Laremy Tunsil, who caught the ball then stomped his way into the end zone, giving the Rebs a 34-3 lead. There had been little doubt prior to the play, but Tunsill’s touchdown sealed the outcome.
How Ole Miss and Oklahoma State Met in the Sugar Bowl
A surefire first-round draft pick, Tunsil had to sit out the first seven games of Ole Miss’ season because of NCAA issues, but did what he had to in the classroom and on the practice field, then contributed mightily in the second portion of the season.
“Laremy’s done so much for us, for the program,” offensive coordinator Dan Werner said later. “We felt like we had to find a way to send him out, and it had to be the perfect situation. It had to be close to the goal line. It had to be on the left hash, so everything had to be perfect and it was – and it worked out.”
The Sugar Bowl win was the sixth overall for Ole Miss, but it was its first since Archie Manning led the Rebels to a 27-22 victory over Arkansas on January 1, 1970.
“I don’t know that it’s totally sunk in yet,” said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze. “I know that when I reflect on this tomorrow, I’m going to have emotions. I seem to cry more, the older I get. I will probably cry a little bit with my wife and kids because, you know, it’s just being raised in this state and knowing what the Sugar Bowl meant to the SEC and to be able to come and win the first Champions Bowl for the SEC and the Big 12 is a big, big deal.”
After seeing its first possession end in a turnover and its second resulting in a punt, Ole Miss (10-3) scored the next six times it had the ball – including four touchdowns – to take a commanding 34-6 lead at halftime. The Rebels and Cowboys (10-3) traded the final 28 points of the game, but Ole Miss’ big first half proved to be the difference in the ballgame.
Quarterback Chad Kelly (left, with head coach Hugh Freeze) earned the Miller-Digby Award as the game’s Most Outstanding Player after completing 21-of-33 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns while adding a team-best 73 rushing yards on 10 carries. His four scoring strikes tied a Sugar Bowl record, equaling the mark set by Florida’s Danny Wuerffel in 1997 and tied by Illinois’ Kurt Kittner in 2002 and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight in 2014.
“I think the biggest thing is that we all came together and played really, really well today,” said Kelly, the sixth Ole Miss quarterback to earn the Miller-Digby Award. “Coming into this game, we knew that we were going to face a tough defense. And we knew we had to be on our P’s and Q’s. And we went out and executed. And the coach put us in the right situation. And knowing that we came into this game having to execute each drive, that is huge. And we did that.”
Wideout Laquon Tradwell, who completed a 45-yard pass to Jordan Wilkins on a lateral play, hauled in six passes for 71 yards and tied a Sugar Bowl record with three touchdown grabs. Treadwell’s TD total equaled the mark set by Florida’s Ike Hilliard in 1997.
“They have a great defense,” Treadwell said. “I think we just executed better and played at higher intensity and jumped on them early. The pieces fell our way. And we caused a couple of turnovers and made plays. And we made them pay for it.”
As a team, Ole Miss tallied 554 yards of total offense (235 rushing, 347 passing) while holding Oklahoma State to 366 (63 rushing, 303 passing). The Rebel defense finished the night with three sacks among 12 tackles for loss and broke up 10 passes.
Oklahoma State scored the game’s first points on a 26-yard field goal off the toe of Ben Grogan with 4:52 to play in the first quarter before a 34-yard kick by Gary Wunderlich (2:37) opened the gates for the Ole Miss onslaught. From there, Kelly found Cody Core for a 31-yard touchdown and connected with Treadwell for scoring strikes of 34 and 10 yards. Wunderlich added a 38-yard field goal with 3:39 to play in the second quarter to stake the Rebels to a commanding 27-6 lead.
The Cowboys got the game to within three scores on their next possession as Grogan split the uprights from 31 yards out, but then Ole Miss delivered the back-breaking blow on the trick play to Tunsill.
“Smart thing to do there is kick the field goal,” Freeze said. “You study film, you play the percentages, and felt comfortable with the lead we had at that moment and really thought that could be somewhat of a dagger to end the first half. You have a gut feeling every now and then. But there was obviously some planning that went into it that you kind of knew what they did when they got down there. And that’s a tough play to stop if you can execute it because there’s nobody to guard your man.”
Ole Miss added to its tally with a 36-yard touchdown run by Jordan Wilkins for the first score of the second half with 4:26 to play in the third quarter. Following a two-yard scoring scramble by OSU back-up quarterback J.W. Walsh with 1:11 remaining in the third quarter, the Rebels accounted for their final touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Kelly to Treadwell (1:56) into the final frame. The Cowboys closed out the scoring on an eight-yard Walsh run with 3:03 left in regulation.
OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph, who was questionable coming into the ballgame due to injury, finished the day 18-of-31 for 179 yards before being lifted in favor of Walsh late in the third quarter. In addition to his two touchdowns and a team-leading 74 rushing yards, Walsh was 9-of-14 form 124 yards.
The lopsided victory wasn’t for any kind of title, but it meant a great deal to Hugh Freeze, who took over a two-win program four years before and had lifted his Rebels to the serious-contender threshold. On a night when practically everything the Rebels tried turned to football gold, in the locker room Freeze could only exclaim, “For everything to fall together like this, it’s almost unbelievable.”
Recap by Sugar Bowl historian Marty Mulé, an award-winning sportswriter who covered college football and the Sugar Bowl for the New Orleans Times-Picayune for 33 years.