Ole Miss legend Archie Manning was at the Sugar Bowl on Friday night, just like he was back in 1970 when the Rebels last played in this game.
Boy, did his alma mater give him and the Ole Miss faithful a show well worth the 46-year wait.
Led by quarterback Chad Kelly and a lights-out performance by its defense, No. 12 Ole Miss delivered a first-half knockout on its way to a 48-20 dismantling of No. 16 Oklahoma State in Friday night’s 82nd edition of the game.
“The Sugar Bowl was a bucket list item for me,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “It’s really surreal.”
Kelly completed 21 of 33 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns to lead an offense that needed just three quarters to reach its season average of 40.2 points per game. Kelly also rushed for 73 yards, including one run that surely made Archie proud.
“The biggest thing is that we all came together and played really well today,” Kelly said. “We knew we were going to play a tough defense and we knew we had to be on our P’s and Q’s.”
The junior quarterback was the winner of the Miller-Digby Award for the game’s most outstanding player. His performance came just six months after he attended the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux. Kelly, who had several off-the-field incidents before his arrival at Ole Miss, repeated over and over at the camp how he wanted to “change his story.
Consider it done after capping his first season in Oxford with a 10-3 record and a record-breaking performance.
His four touchdowns tied a Sugar Bowl record, set by Florida State’s Chris Weinke (2000), Illinois Kurt Kittner (2002) and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight (2014). His four touchdowns were the most ever by an Ole Miss quarterback in a bowl game. The team’s 554 yards were fourth-most in Sugar Bowl history.
Three of Kelly’s touchdown passes went to Laquon Treadwell, the Rebels’ standout junior receiver who is expected to be a first-round draft pick whenever he decides to turn pro.
“I’m glad he was able to be on my team this year,” Kelly said about his go-to receiver.
If Friday was Treadwell’s final game, he went out with a bang.
He caught six passes for 71 yards. His three touchdowns tied the mark of former Florida standout Ike Hilliard in the 1997 game against Florida State. Treadwell also threw a 45-yard pass to help set up an Ole Miss touchdown.
The Rebels capped a dominant first half with a lateral from Kelly to offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil. The half was so lopsided that Tunsil, a left tackle projected to be a high first-round pick in this year’s draft, outrushed the Cowboys in the first half. Tunsil had 2 rushing yards; Oklahoma State was held to minus-1 yards.
Ole Miss’ 34 first-half points tied the record for points in a half set by LSU in the 2002 Sugar Bowl against Illinois.
It was the third straight loss of the season for the Cowboys, who started the season 10-0 before hitting a season-ending skid. Oklahoma State entered the game averaging 41.2 points but fell way short of that against a stingy Rebels defense that showed no dropoff playing without star defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (suspended).
Oklahoma State finished with 366 yards, but much of it came late when the game was well in hand.
Ole Miss led 41-6 late in the third before Oklahoma State scored two touchdowns to make the score more respectable. The Cowboys’ only lead came on Ben Grogan’s 26-yard field goal with 3:01 left in the opening quarter. It was all Rebels after that as Ole Miss rattled off 27 straight points.
It was Oklahoma State’s most lopsided bowl loss, eclipsing the 33-7 loss to Ohio State in the 2004 Alamo Bowl. That was Les Miles’ final game as coach of the Cowboys before taking over at LSU.
“It started snowballing in the second quarter,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “We couldn’t run. We became one-dimensional. When we fell behind by two touchdowns, it made it tough for us. They became a runaway train.”
The victory capped an about-face for a Rebels team that finished 2-10 in 2011, the year before Freeze’s arrival.
“This is absolutely unbelievable,” Freeze said. “It means a lot being raised in Mississippi and knowing what the Sugar Bowl means to the SEC. This team won the three most important games (LSU, Mississippi State, Sugar Bowl) in a row on our schedule.”