With all the promise and success Indiana showed in 2020, its season ended in disappointing fashion.
Indiana overcame a 14-point deficit, but fell to the Ole Miss Rebels 26-20 in the 35th Outback Bowl on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.. The loss is just IU’s second this season but results in a second-straight bowl game defeat that brings the Hoosiers’ season to an inadequate conclusion.
“At the end of the day I’m the head coach, this loss falls on me,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said. “That’s the way it works. I accept that. That’s what makes it sting so much because I wanted it for these kids so bad.”
Indiana (6-2, 6-1 Big Ten) came into the contest not playing a game since Dec. 5 at Wisconsin because of COVID-19 complications ending its regular season. Almost a month went by since the Hoosiers had any gameplay experience and it showed on Saturday. Indiana’s performance had its fair share of rust and it eventually became IU’s undoing.
Ole Miss tempo too much
Ole Miss (5-5, 4-5 SEC) began the game looking to outscore Indiana in an old fashioned track meet. The Rebels entered with one of the highest scoring offenses in the country at 40.7 points per game. Indiana’s defense gave up just 19.4 points per game, so on paper it looks like an even matchup.
That was not the case at all.
Ole Miss’ offensive tempo proved to be the difference maker for them. The Rebels had five scoring drives combining for 56 plays and 351 yards. Head coach Lane Kiffin’s offense did not just score, but it scored as fast as possible. Four of Ole Miss’ scoring possessions happened in 3:33 or less. The Rebels had a six minute scoring drive that went 18 plays for 76 yards.
“To me the tempo is really the hardest part,” Allen said. “We rely so much on disguising things. It’s hard to do that because you’re just trying to get lined up to play a snap.”
Even after Indiana tied the game at 20, 5:58 remained on the clock. Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral drove the Rebels 63 yards in just six plays and 1:46. Corral connected with receiver Dontario Drummond on a three-yard touchdown pass, the extra-point attempt missed, but just like that Indiana needed another drive to try to come back again.
The speed of Ole Miss’ offense kept the Indiana defense on its heels the entire game. The Hoosiers struggled getting play calls from defensive coordinator Kane Wommack and as a result, IU’s defensive players were out of position on multiple plays resulting in open receivers and sloppy tackles.
“We kind of knew they were going to do that,” linebacker Micah McFadden said about the Rebels’ tempo. “We practiced to prepare, but there wasn’t really much we could do to prepare for the heat, the exhaustion and fatigue at the end.”
The biggest strength for the Indiana defense this season is forcing turnovers. The Hoosiers forced 20 turnovers this season and came away with zero on Saturday. The combination of quick passes and runs enabled Corral and the offense to move collectively down the field. Wommack dropped as many as eight defenders in coverage, but the Hoosiers could not stop the Rebels momentum.
“They [Ole Miss] were trying to keep us from having chances to do that,” Allen said on creating takeaways. “There was not a lot of those.”
Corral completed 30-of-42 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns with a rating of 148.5. Drummond recorded six receptions for a game-high 110 yards with one touchdown.
Saturday’s defensive performance looked nothing like the Indiana defense that has played all season. The Hoosier defense is one of the reasons for the team’s success in 2020. However, an inability to slow the Rebels’ tempo and change the momentum led to more pressure on Indiana’s offense. An offense that had its number of struggles on Saturday as well.
Indiana’s inconsistent offense
As Indiana’s defense struggled to overcome Ole Miss’ offense, the Hoosiers had difficulty to find any rhythm offensively. In his second career start, Indiana quarterback Jack Tuttle came out completing 4-of-5 passes with all five targets to senior wide receiver Whop Philyor to start. However, the drive resulted in a punt. Indiana’s second drive ended with a 50-yard field goal from Charles Campbell, but then the offense struggled the remainder of the half.
Two punts and an interception is all Indiana could gather the rest of the first half. Facing a 13-3 deficit with 7:17 remaining until halftime, Tuttle took the Hoosiers 49 yards on 11 plays with a chance to get some form of points. Then, an under throw from Tuttle resulted in an interception by Ole Miss’ Otis Reese.
“I feel like we could have come out stronger,” Tuttle said. “Would have could have should have, right? Just got to be better, improve, grow from it.”
Tuttle battled the rest of the game with what Allen said was a shoulder separation. The San Marcos, Calif. native threw 26-of-45 for 201 yards and the one interception.
“I thought he was a warrior today,” Allen said about Tuttle. “He played through some serious pain.”
Tuttle connected with Philyor 18 times on 23 targets for 81 yards. Philyor’s 18 receptions set a new IU single-game record, an Indiana bowl game record and an Outback Bowl record.
Leading receiver Ty Fryfogle had just three catches for 34 yards on the day, but on just seven targets the offense had complications getting him the ball.
Another issue with the offensive rhythm was lack of a running game early on. Ole Miss bested Indiana 295-141 in total yards during the first half. The Hoosiers first half saw just 13 rushes for 57 yards against a defense that allowed 211.2 rushing yards per game entering Saturday’s game. IU’s fanbase took to social media with fans wanting Indiana to run the ball.
Running back Stevie Scott had Indiana’s only touchdowns on the day, both coming from the Wildcat formation near the goal line. Scott recorded game-highs with 19 rushes for 99 yards and two touchdowns. On those 19 rushes, 15 came in the second half. Scott’s rushing is what gave Indiana a chance to come back against the Rebels.
“I feel like we started running a little bit tempo offense,” Scott said. “We noticed that the defense was getting a little tired. We just tried to play to our advantage, just try to get the run game going, keep getting downhill to set up play-action.”
Indiana actually out gained Ole Miss 228-198 in the second half with the running game being the fuel for the Hoosiers.
The only consistent production for Indiana was redshirt sophomore kicker Charles Campbell. The Jackson, Tenn. native connected on a 50-yard and 53-yard field goal. The latter being a new career-long for Campbell and an Outback Bowl record.
“It’s a heartbreaking loss, for sure,” Campbell said. “I mean, I just want to help. I did my job, but it wasn’t enough in the end.”
Another bowl loss ends the season
Indiana’s quest for a bowl victory under Allen will have to wait yet another year. Saturday’s loss is the sixth-straight bowl game loss for the Hoosiers. Including Saturday’s Outback Bowl, IU’s last four bowl defeats have all been one possession margins for a combined 12 points.
Saturday was Indiana’s chance for its first bowl victory since 1991 when it defeated Baylor 24-0 in the Copper Bowl. The Hoosiers bowl game record is now 3-10 after their latest defeat to Ole Miss.
Yes, the program had a tremendous season defeating Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Indiana had a lot of success this season with three Top-25 victories and ranking in the Top-10 six times with the highest being No. 7. IU earned accolades such as Allen winning Big Ten Coach of the Year, cornerback Tiawan Mullen receiving first-team All-American honors, and multiple players earning All-Big Ten.
In what may go down as one of the craziest seasons in college football history, Indiana was right in the pack with some of the best teams in the country. This was the Hoosiers’ chance to end their bowl losing streak and prove that they have taken the next step. Now, that opportunity to see if Indiana takes the next step as a football program has to wait until the 2021 season.
“They’ve been through so much, given so much, worked so hard, sacrificed so much to come to a bowl game,” Allen said. “Just heartbroken for them they weren’t able to finish with a win. Very proud of our guys, but this one is going to hurt for a while.”
Photo: Indiana University Athletics