This is why we love bowl games. Call them old school if you must because we are now in the playoff era. But two teams, that are dramatically different from top to bottom, that have never faced each other, playing in the post season is just downright fun. The 2021 Outback Bowl will be so unpredictable. That is what we will look forward to as 6-1 Indiana faces 4-5 Ole Miss Saturday.
The 2021 Outback Bowl Will Be So Unpredictable
WHAT: 35th annual Outback Bowl (was called the Hall of Fame Bowl until 1995)
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
WHEN: Saturday, Jan 2; 12:30pm Eastern Time
WHO: Indiana (Big Ten) vs. Ole Miss (SEC)
This year we have two teams that have completely taken on the personalities of their head coaches. Indiana’s Tom Allen is measured. A candidate for national coach of the year, he calculates his moves and deliberates over his decisions. The result is the most successful football season in Bloomington in more than 30 years. Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin is as publicized. He is brash and often flies by the seat of his pants. His team’s offense plays the same way, and like Kiffin, gets mixed results.
The Hoosiers started the season with results no one could have imagined when the season started. They won their first four games, before falling to eventual playoff team Ohio State. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. was having the season of his life. Even in the loss to the Buckeyes, he threw for 491 yards and five touchdowns. Then he tore his ACL in the win over Maryland and was out for the season for the third year in a row.
The Hoosiers finished the season with wins over Maryland and Wisconsin, but then had to do a lot of sitting. Their regular season finale against Purdue got cancelled for COVID issues, as did the championship week game against the Boilermakers. Indiana has not taken the field in a month.
Sophomore Jack Tuttle has taken over at quarterback. While he is no Penix, he has done fine. He finished off the Maryland win going five for five passing, and then got his first career start in the win over Wisconsin. Not much has been asked of him as he has thrown 38 career passes at Indiana with 27 of them coming this season.
Indiana’s success is going to come at the hands, literally, of its defense. The Hoosiers lead the P5 conferences in interceptions with 17. They also have 270 return yards off the interceptions. Jordyn Williams and Jamar Johnson lead the team with four each. It makes the Indiana defense versus the Ole Miss offense match-up all the more compelling.
Ole Miss’ Profile
Ole Miss is led by quarterback Matt Corral. He embodies everything his coach and this Rebels offense is all about. It is a high wire act with great successes mixed in with great implosions.
He has thrown for nearly 3,000 in a shortened season and has done so at a 71% completion rate. But along with his 27 touchdown passes, he has thrown a stunning 14 interceptions in just nine games. He leads an offense that puts up 562 yards per game but also mistake prone. The Rebels are first in the SEC in yards per game and third in scoring at 40 points per game. But Corral is going to be playing the bowl game without tight end Kenny Yeboah and wide receiver Elijah Moore. Both opted out at the end of the season in order to prepare for the NFL. Moore is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, so the subtractions are significant.
And that takes into account that the offense will have to light up the scoreboard to win this game. The team as a whole is 110th in the country in turnover margin. And the defense…well, the defense gives up as many points as the offense scores. It is last in the conference in stopping the run and the pass. And it is last in the SEC in scoring defense and total defense.
The game comes down to this; Ole Miss is going to score, but will they be mistake free? The Rebels defense has the propensity to give up a lot of points, but can an inexperienced Indiana quarterback take advantage of the Ole Miss weakness. This is why we love the postseason. The truly unknown from two teams with no history against each other. The possibilities are endless.