Mississippi caps 10-win season with Sugar Bowl victory
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Mississippi’s Laremy Tunsil heard the play call and felt his stomach getting tight almost immediately.
The elite left tackle is totally confident blocking some of the best defensive players in the country. But this would be his first cameo as a receiver — and on the stage of the Sugar Bowl no less.
“I ain’t going to lie to you,” Tunsil said. “I was kind of nervous.”
But the 305-pounder slipped behind the Oklahoma State defense undetected as quarterback Chad Kelly ran a few steps right, then turned around and threw a lateral across his body to a wide open Tunsil.
It wasn’t a perfect throw, and the big man had to nimbly adjust his route when the ball was in midair, but it eventually fell into his hands and he jogged untouched 2 yards for the touchdown as the Rebels ended the first half with a stunning exclamation point.
Just like that, this Sugar Bowl was pretty much over. Ole Miss won 48-20 — jumping out to a 34-6 lead by halftime — to finish with a 10-win season for the first time since the 2003 season.
Kelly was chosen the game’s Most Valuable Player after throwing for 302 yards and four touchdowns, including three to Laquon Treadwell.
It might have been the final college game for Kelly, Treadwell and Tunsil, who are all juniors and say they’ll make a decision on declaring for the NFL draft or staying in school during the next few weeks.
Treadwell and Tunsil — widely considered first-round prospects — are most likely to turn pro.
If this was it for any of the trio, it was an impressive way to go out.
Kelly’s four touchdown passes tied a Sugar Bowl record. So did Treadwell’s three touchdown catches. And Tunsil made the signature play that will be remembered by Ole Miss fans for a long time.
“I think we just executed better and played at a higher intensity and jumped on them early,” Treadwell said. “The pieces fell our way. We caused a couple of turnovers and made plays.”
For Ole Miss, it was a sweet ending for a season that had some huge wins and agonizing losses. The Rebels are still the only team in the country to beat Alabama — winning 43-37 in Tuscaloosa — but losses to Memphis and Arkansas knocked them out of national playoff contention.
Ole Miss closed the season on a three-game winning streak, beating LSU, Mississippi State and then Oklahoma State. It was the program’s first Sugar Bowl appearance since 1970.
“This team just won the three most important games, arguably, on our schedule right in a row, and did it in convincing fashion,” Freeze said.
Ole Miss looks well positioned for the future as well. The Rebels expect to sign one of the most highly-rated recruiting classes in the country in February, which could replenish the talent void left by Treadwell, Tunsil and junior defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.
Nkemdiche already announced he would enter the NFL draft after being suspended for the Sugar Bowl. He was charged with possession of marijuana in Atlanta last month.
“We have high expectations for ourselves,” Freeze said. “The Ole Miss brand now is probably as strong as it has ever been. We think we have an environment that is attractive to a lot of certain type of people that want to do something new and fresh at a different place than has been done before.”
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