Indiana vs. Ole Miss: 5 things to know about the Hoosiers' Outback Bowl opponent
No. 7 Indiana never thought it’d be playing a sub-.500 team in a bowl game, yet here we are.
The Hoosiers, who at 6-1 are ranked 7th in the AP poll and 11th in the College Football Playoff rankings, take on Ole Miss in the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl in Tampa. The Rebels are 4-5, having finished 5th in the SEC West.
This isn’t where the Hoosiers thought they’d be. Instead they had hoped for a NY6 bowl game, but when the CFP Selection Committee put IU 11th, it was left out.
So it’s IU-Ole Miss.
Let’s take a look at 5 things to know about the Rebels:
The defense rests
In Lane Kiffin’s first year in Oxford, defense has been more of a suggestion than a requirement.
It’s not good.
The Rebels gave up at least 50 points in three of their five losses this season: A 51-35 defeat to No. 5 Florida, a 63-48 loss to No. 2 Alabama and a 53-48 loss at LSU. Ole Miss might have gotten a reprieve from another 50-burger against Texas A&M when that game was canceled.
Ole Miss finished last in yards allowed — that’s No. 127 of 127 in the FBS — giving up 535.7 per game. That’s not even close to second-worst in the country, as North Texas is 36 yards per game better. And those are the only two teams in the country that allow more than 495 per outing. Ole Miss also ranks 122nd in the FBS in average points allowed, giving up 40.3 per game. That was a little less than a touchdown per game better than the worst team in the country, Kansas.
Indiana quarterback Jack Tuttle should be salivating for his second career start. The Rebels’ pass defense is dead last in the country, at 324.4 yards per game allowed. But hey, the rush defense is slightly better, No. 104 in the country, giving up 211.2 yards on average.
Trouble holding on
Indiana’s defense thrives on creating turnovers.
Enter Ole Miss.
It gives the ball away. Rebels quarterback Matt Corral has 14 interceptions in 282 attempts this season, averaging one in every 20 attempts. Corral has, however, had a solid season otherwise, throwing for 2,995 yards on 71.3 completion percentage with 27 touchdowns.
But add up the interceptions and the four lost fumbles, and Indiana’s defense, which had 20 takeaways this season, might have a feast.
The O’s (offense and opt-outs)
Other than the turnover thing, Ole Miss can move the ball and put it in the end zone.
It’ll be a test for the IU defense.
The Rebels average almost 41 points per game, the third-best mark in the SEC, better than Texas A&M, Auburn and Georgia (among others). It’s behind only Alabama and Georgia. Ole Miss is well-balanced, too, as it’s No. 1 in rushing yards per game (217.7) and third in passing yards (344.8).
Ole Miss doesn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher, but it does have two running backs with more than 375: Jerrion Ealy had a team-high 745 with 9 touchdowns, while Snoop Conner has 378 and 7. Corral, the QB, is a running threat, too, with 469 yards on the ground and 4 scores.
Elijah Moore is far and away the biggest receiving target, with 86 catches for 1,193 yards and 8 TDs, but he’s not playing in the Outback Bowl. Both he and tight end Kenny Yeboah, who had 27 receptions for 524 yards and 6 touchdowns, opted out of the rest of the season on Friday. It leaves the Rebels with a huge gap in the passing game.
History, not much
Indiana and Ole Miss have never played.
But IU coach Tom Allen knows the Rebels, having served as the team’s linebackers coach and special teams coordinator from 2012-14 under Coach Hugh Freeze.
It was a successful era, as Ole Miss was 24-15 during those two seasons. And one could argue it is where Allen’s star began to rise. In 2015, Allen became the defensive coordinator at South Florida, helping the unit rank first in the AAC in scoring defense. A year later, he was at IU in the same role before becoming the Hoosiers’ head coach for the 2017 season.
Sure, Indiana wanted a more high-profile bowl and opponent.
But maybe this matchup provides the Hoosiers with an opportunity to do something it has not recently: Win a bowl game.
IU has lost its last five bowl games, dating back to its victory over Baylor in the 1991 Copper Bowl in Tucson, Ariz. It’s been close in its last three games, losing them by a combined 6 points.