Indiana: 8 (key players) to be great for Hoosiers to upend Ole Miss in Outback Bowl
As Indiana prepares to travel to the warmth of Tampa for Saturday’s Outback Bowl, it’s looking for matchups it can exploit against Ole Miss.
There may be many. The Hoosiers come into the game with a 6-1 record, ranked No. 7 in the AP and 11th in the final CFP rankings. Meanwhile, Ole Miss is 4-5, the fifth-place team in the SEC West.
IU can look toward 8 players it needs to be great to get the bowl victory.
Here’s the list:
Indiana’s backup quarterback will be making his second career start, but he might be facing a bit more pressure in this one.
Ole Miss’s offense, even against Indiana’s defense, might be able to put up some points, making it imperative that Tuttle and the Hoosiers get their passing game cranked up early. It wasn’t a necessity in Tuttle’s first start at Wisconsin, when the Hoosiers could play a bit more conservatively, rely on the defense and take measured shots on offense.
The Rebels are going to be anything but conservative, taking chances to try to put points on the board. There may come times Saturday when IU has to try to match them; it might be relatively easy, given that the Rebels’ defense ranks near or at the bottom of most relevant NCAA DI defensive categories. But Tuttle, despite his limited playing time, will need to execute.
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral can be electric, as the sophomore dual-threat quarterback is averaging an SEC-best 332 yards per game while hitting 72 percent of his passes, with 27 touchdowns. He’s a running threat too, with an additional 469 yards and 4 scores.
But he’s turnover prone too, with 14 interceptions in 282 pass attempts, throwing 1 pick in every 20 attempts. One way to con Corral into errors is to get pressure up front without having to blitz. And Johnson, the big 6-3, 304-pound interior D-lineman, has been solid in creating pressure up the middle this season, with 4 sacks, second only to linebacker Micah McFadden on the Hoosiers.
If Johnson can muddy up the passing lanes, then it might assist in forcing Corral into bad decisions and turnovers.
Speaking of turnovers, Tiawan Mullen has created a number of them this season, with his 3 interceptions and a forced fumble.
Ole Miss will be without its top two pass-catchers, as No. 1 receiver Elijah Moore has opted to forgo the game to focus on his NFL career, while tight end Kenny Yeboah has done the same. They’re big losses, particularly Moore. The junior has 86 receptions this season for 1,193 yards and 8 touchdowns.
What’s that mean to Ole Miss? Well, consider this: The Rebels have only three other receivers with receptions this season, and they’ve combined for only 58.
Whoever he matches up with, Mullen is likely to have a big-time advantage in experience and ability, and that might be good news for the Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers’ defense plays with confidence and swagger, and few players embody it as much as Jamar Johnson.
The 6-1, 197-pound safety is a powerful hitter who makes opponents hesitate about coming through the middle, and he’s also had a knack for big plays in big moments.
Johnson has 4 picks this season, plus 3 more pass breakups.
Let’s go over some numbers: 170, 88, 164, 137, 150, 97, 117, 176 and 308.
Those are the yardage numbers for the top pass receiver of each Ole Miss opponent this season. The average is 156.3 yards. The Rebels’ pass defense is dead last in the country, giving up 324.4 yards per game.
Needless to say, perhaps, Fryfogle, an All-Big Ten first-teamer who had back-to-back 200-yard receiving games this season, might be salivating over this matchup. He should be.
The Hoosiers might want to keep an eye on Corral, who can hurt a defense with his legs as much as his arm.
The 6-2, 205-pounder’s 469 rushing yards are the second-most on the team, behind running back Jerrion Ealy. Against Auburn, Corral threw for 242 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he had a career-high 88 rushing yards. He threw for 365 yards and 2 TDs vs. Alabama, plus had another 40 yards on the ground. He helped the Rebels put up 647 yards vs. the Tide, the most ever given up by Alabama. He had 4 passing touchdowns and 1 rushing against South Carolina.
The Hoosiers might best decide to spy Corral, having McFadden — or another linebacker — keep an eye toward the Ole Miss quarterback, trying to keep him in the pocket, rather than letting him extend drives with his feet.
Ole Miss can score, as proven by its 41 points per game, third-best in the SEC.
It’ll be a good idea if the Hoosiers can force the Rebels into long fields, and that’s why it’ll be imperative that veteran punter Haydon Whitehead have a good day. The graduate student has been solid all year, averaging 42.4 per punt while being named All-Big Ten honorable mention.
Stevie Scott III
Stevie Scott III probably has not had the kind of individual season he envisioned.
The former 1,000-yard rusher had 486 in this year’s seven-game season. He scored 8 touchdowns, but averaged only 3.4 yards per carry.
He might be able to erase the frustration against the Rebels, considering Ole Miss’s rush defense is just about as leaky as its pass defense. The Rebels give up 211.2 rushing yards per game, ranking it No. 104 in the country (out of 127).
Scott is still searching for his first 100-yard game of the season — he had 97 in 24 carries, with 2 touchdowns vs. Michigan — and might have a very good chance on Saturday in Tampa.