Trailing 20-6 in the third quarter in Tampa, Indiana looked like a lost cause at the Outback Bowl.
But after a sluggish start the Hoosiers found answers late to tie the game at 20 with 5:40 remaining. After scoring just six points through their first eight drives, IU put together consecutive 80-yard touchdown drives to momentarily catch Mississippi.
The fact-paced Ole Miss offense tormented IU for most of the day, and the Rebel attack had a quick answer, with a 6-play, 63 yard drive to reclaim a 26-20 lead after a missed extra point. The drive took just 1 minute and 46 seconds off the clock, leaving plenty of time for an IU response.
The Hoosiers final drive stalled out at the Rebel 41, as Jack Tuttle was hit as he threw on 4th-and-18. The ball fell harmlessly to the field, delivering Indiana its second loss of the season and ending a magical 2020 campaign in disappointing fashion.
“This one is going to hurt for a long time,” IU coach Tom Allen said after the game. “I hurt for our guys. Just didn’t make enough plays when we needed them. But we put ourselves in a position to go win a game, and had a chance to get a score and get an extra point for the lead, and couldn’t get in the end zone.
“Just very disappointed.”
It took too long for the Hoosiers to find a rhythm in this one. Indiana had nothing going at halftime, trailing 13-3.
“We came out sloppy in the first half and tried to pick it up in the second half, but it just wasn’t enough,” running back Stevie Scott said.
Fueled by a break neck up-tempo offense, the Rebels outgained IU 295-141 before the break.
“That’s what they do,” Allen said of the Ole Miss offense. “That’s why they have averaged 40 points per game in a tough league. They put stress on you, there’s no doubt. They had a lot of snaps in the first half, which took its toll.”
Tuttle appeared to suffer a throwing shoulder injury before halftime but continued to play. Some of his throws appeared to lack velocity after the injury. The redshirt sophomore finished the game 26-of-45 for 201 yards and was unable to connect on any big plays down the field.
But IU turned to the running game and found something with Stevie Scott. The junior back had 19 carries for 99 yards for the game and found the end zone twice on second half wildcat formation runs inside the Rebel five yard line.
“We were able to run the football better in the second half, and Stevie Scott ran his tail off and did some great things, and a lot of guys did as well,” Allen said. “But we’ve just got to score more points.”
Takeaways had been a hallmark of the defense throughout the 2020 season, but IU was unable to force Ole Miss into mistakes while the Hoosiers coughed it up twice. Tuttle threw a first half interception, and receiver Whop Philyor fumbled after a reception in the second half.
“Our offense turned it over twice, and we didn’t get any on defense,” Allen said. “That to me is a huge stat that goes a long way towards deciding the outcome of the game.”
The disappointing loss ends an unprecedented 2020 season that saw starts and stops, modified schedules, game cancellations and a late season program pause — all due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s the part that makes it hurt so much. They’ve been through so much, I can’t even begin to tell you how emotionally and mentally draining this whole process has been on our guys,” Allen said.
For Indiana’s senior class, it was a disappointing end to a two season run that saw the Hoosiers go 14-7.
“Just a special group,” Allen said of his seniors. “Not a big group, but they’ve invested a lot here and had two really good seasons back-to-back. Won a lot of football games for us. A group that came here and was able to see the turnaround and the change and be a part of that. It will always be special for them.”
Those seniors are eligible to return in 2021 due to a special eligibility waiver related to the pandemic passed down by the NCAA. Allen said those decisions will be finalized and announced in the coming weeks.
For those that will be back, the Outback Bowl loss will serve as motivation going into the offseason.
“Just more fuel to the fire for next year. We just have to get back in the lab and continue working,” Scott said.
NOTES AND NUMBERS
Wide receiver Whop Philyor set the IU all-time single game receptions record with 17. He had just 81 yards, averaging only 4.5 yards per catch.
Kicker Charles Campbell made 50 and 53 yard field goals. The latter was his career long and the longest postseason field goal in program history.
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral was 30-of-44 passing for 342 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also ran 7 times for 37 yards.
Indiana’s run of postseason futility continues. The Hoosiers have not won a bowl game since 1991. IU has now lost six consecutive bowl games. The Hoosiers made their fourth bowl game appearance in the last six years.
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