Photo courtesy of Ole Miss athletics
Lane Kiffin’s first season as head coach was interesting, to say the least. After years of “playing it safe,” Ole Miss fans welcomed Kiffin’s big personality and high-powered offense.
With a truncated, all-SEC schedule, expectations were not nearly as high as overall excitement. After nine games (the Texas A&M game will not be played), the Rebels sit at 4-5. Ole Miss was one blown call away from beating Auburn. The Rebels were even tied with now No. 1 Alabama late in the fourth quarter, after trading scores all game.
Although the season certainly did not end the way fans had hoped, a consolation prize comes in the form of an Outback Bowl appearance for the Rebels. Ole Miss will head to Tampa to take on No. 7 Indiana.
The Hoosiers played just seven games this season due to COVID-19 cancellations. Former Hugh Freeze assistant, Tom Allen, has been their head coach since 2016. He has turned their program around in a very impressive fashion.
After going 5-7 his first two seasons, he led the Hoosiers to an 8-4 finish in 2019 and a 6-1 record in 2020. It’s likely the Hoosiers’ strength of schedule and lack of games led to them being paired with Ole Miss in Tampa.
Ohio State was the only team on their schedule to finish ranked. They lost a close one to the Buckeyes, 42-35. Like Ole Miss, Indiana will be without some key players for the Outback Bowl.
Indiana enjoyed modest success this season on offense, finishing 10th in the Big Ten in yards per game and third in points per game. Most of these passing yards were from Michael Penix Jr., who tore his ACL against Maryland. Utah transfer Jack Tuttle will be starting the bowl game in his place.
Although his film at this level is limited, Tuttle possesses all of the measurables to succeed, especially against a dismal Ole Miss defense. The Hoosiers essentially have no run game. As a team, they average just over 100 yards per game on the ground this season.
They rely mainly on crossing routes, with the occasional deep ball to Ty Fryfogle. The senior from Lucedale, Miss. has had some monster games this season — most notably his 218-yard, 3-touchdown performance against Ohio State. If Ole Miss’ contest against LSU was any indication, you will see him catching many passes in the middle of the field.
The match-up between the Hoosiers’ defense and the potent Ole Miss offense will be interesting. In just seven games, Indiana forced 17 interceptions. To give you an idea how impressive that is, the Rebel defense had just five interceptions in two more games this season.
Jamar Johnson picked Justin Fields off twice in their match-up against the Buckeyes. At linebacker, Micah McFadden makes plays all over the field. He has racked up 52 tackles and five sacks this year.
The Hoosiers’ best defensive lineman is another Mississippi native in Jerome Johnson. He also had a big game against Ohio State, recording four tackles, a sack, and an interception.
The loss of Penix Jr. is substantial, but plenty of other inexperienced quarterbacks found success against the Rebel defense this season. We don’t see Indiana scoring less than 35 points, with Fryfogle recording at least 150 yards receiving.
Ole Miss gave away the Arkansas and LSU games with unnecessary turnovers. Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah opted out for the season, which left quarterback Matt Corral to force throws and leave the pocket to make plays with his legs.
Corral is the deciding factor this game. If the same Corral who combined for 760 passing yards against Florida and Alabama shows up in Tampa, the Rebels will run away with this one in a shootout. If not, Indiana could leave Tampa with its first bowl win since 1991.
The contest takes place on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET. It will air nationally on ESPN.