Two of the nation’s most prolific passing offenses will take the field in Friday’s Allstate Sugar Bowl when No. 12 Ole Miss (9-3) faces No. 16 Oklahoma State (10-2).
As we move toward kickoff (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), Big 12 reporter Brandon Chatmon and SEC reporter David Ching take a look at some of the matchups that could determine the outcome.
David Ching: The offenses are probably the biggest story here. How do you think Oklahoma State’s offensive tempo will impact the game?
Brandon Chatmon: Tempo could be critical for a Cowboys offense that struggled to run the ball during the entire regular season. If Oklahoma State can catch Ole Miss’ defense off guard and out of position on occasion, that could be just enough to get a big play or two in the running game. Oklahoma State averaged a play every 23.4 seconds in 2015, nearly two seconds quicker than the FBS average of 25.2.
Mike Gundy’s team knows it doesn’t have the offensive line to move the Rebels by will alone, so if tempo can play a role -- either by tiring the Ole Miss defense or catching it out of position -- it could be a valuable asset.
Ching: Tiring Ole Miss out is the big thing here, I think. With Robert Nkemdiche -- plus several other notable players from the Rebels’ original front seven -- missing, Ole Miss’ depth up front is not ideal.
To adapt to that depth shortage, Rebels defensive coordinator Dave Wommack devised creative personnel groupings that won’t rely so heavily on defensive linemen. Still, if Oklahoma State can extend possessions and wear down Ole Miss, that could pay major dividends late in the game.
On the other side, what about Oklahoma State and its defense against Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and the Rebels' passing game?
Chatmon: Oklahoma State has the pieces to make things difficult for Kelly, with Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Emmanuel Ogbah hunting the Ole Miss quarterback and some veteran cornerbacks, led by Kevin Peterson, on the outside.
Yet top quarterbacks have had success against the Cowboys. Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, TCU’s Trevone Boykin, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, and Baylor’s duo of Jarrett Stidham and Chris Johnson combined for 1,501 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions against the Cowboys.
Kelly will have to play well because Oklahoma State’s secondary is a quality, experienced group. But it has shown it can be vulnerable against a quarterback who is on the mark.
Ching: Kelly has been incredible down the stretch. I doubt many people realize that he has had one of the best statistical seasons by any quarterback in SEC history. The biggest factor in his success in the second half of the season was that he took care of the football, which had been an issue earlier in the fall.
Speaking of Treadwell, he will be involved in one of Friday's marquee matchups. How do you expect the Treadwell-Peterson showdown and the matchup between Ogbah and Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil to go?
Chatmon: The Tunsil vs. Ogbah matchup is my favorite of the bowl season because I have no idea who will come out on top. Both guys should see this as a chance to make some money by raising their draft stock, but it seems like the bigger chance for Ogbah, even though he’s faced some top-notch tackles like Baylor’s Spencer Drango and Texas Tech’s Le'Raven Clark in the Big 12. But he hasn’t seen anything like Tunsil, who sits at No. 5 on Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board.
On the outside, Peterson will have his hands full with Treadwell. Much like the matchup in the trenches, it’s a chance for Peterson to impress by taking on a player who is higher on the draft board. Ultimately, though, I think the Ole Miss duo will win the majority of their individual battles against Oklahoma State’s standout defenders. And if they win in dominant fashion, they could be the key to the Rebels winning the game. If Peterson and Ogbah win their share, the Cowboys will have a much better chance of heading home with a win.
Ching: I agree completely. I’ve heard Ogbah has added to his arsenal this season, and he’ll need every trick in his bag to win his head-to-head battles with Tunsil, who is one of the best offensive tackles to come through the SEC in a long time -- and that’s saying something.
You could pay a similar compliment to Treadwell. The guy can do it all, and he’s about to embark on a long, successful NFL career. Peterson probably will not shut him down, but if he can neutralize Treadwell to some degree, that definitely helps Oklahoma State’s cause.