Indiana Outback Bowl preview: Defense, turnovers again will be keys for Hoosiers
Since getting over the disappointment of being left out of the New Year’s 6, the Hoosiers have been able, they say, to refocus their efforts on the Outback Bowl.
In Tampa, seventh-ranked Indiana (6-1) will play Ole Miss (4-5) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. And it will do so as the favorite, perhaps providing IU with the best opportunity to get the proverbial monkey off its back; the Hoosiers have lost their last 5 bowl games, dating to 1991, their last three being by an incredibly frustrating total of 6 points.
So while Indiana would have liked to have played in a NY6 bowl game, where it would have been in a higher-profile bowl but likely would have been the underdog, perhaps the Rebels are the right elixir. Indiana is a near 10-point favorite.
Following are key storylines:
Making his second career start for the injured Michael Penix Jr., Jack Tuttle is looking to keep his record unblemished. And the key to doing so might be for offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan to adopt a game plan similar to the one he installed vs. Wisconsin, in which he managed Tuttle’s first start to near perfection.
Tuttle attempted only 22 passes vs. the Badgers, completing 13 for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns without an interception. The Hoosiers ran the ball 1.5 times more, with 31 rushes for 87 yards.
It wasn’t as if Tuttle didn’t face critical moments. He hit Whop Philyor on a 3rd-and-goal from the Wisconsin 7-yard line on the first drive of the second half, helping build the IU lead to 14-3.
Tuttle might find a few more openings against Ole Miss’s defense, which has been, uh, challenged for much of the season. The pass defense ranks last in the country — that’s 127 out of 127 — in giving up 324.4 yards per game.
Without many of his other weapons, including star wide receiver Elijah Moore, who had 1,193 receiving yards in only 8 games, and tight end Kenny Yeboah, quarterback Matt Corral will likely try to take on more of the offensive load.
He already handled much of it, with 2,995 passing yards in 9 games this season, plus another 469 on the ground. He accounted for 31 touchdowns this season.
Considering the top two pass-catchers opted out early to focus on the NFL, Corral might be a bigger threat to run the ball than pass it. The Hoosiers will be focused on stopping him, and the Rebels’ ground game, from getting untracked. That’s especially true on third down, where Corral can be deadly when plays break down around him.
The Hoosiers have thrived because of their ability to get offenses off the field, either via punt or via turnover. It’s been so effective that two of Indiana’s biggest wins of the season have come with pedestrian offensive yardage, only 211 in a season-opening and tone-setting win over Penn State and 217 in the season-finale against Wisconsin.
Ole Miss is reckless.
Indiana is opportunistic.
Seems like a good mix for Tom Allen’s Hoosiers. The Rebels had 6 turnovers in their season-ending loss to LSU, including 5 interceptions.
Indiana has one of the best turnover ratios in the country — at plus-10, it’s tops in the Big Ten and No. 4 nationally — and it has turned its 20 takeaways into 65 points. And it’s not only a recent trend. IU has at least 1 takeaway in 36 of its last 38 games, including a school-record 15 straight. It has an interception in a school-record 10 straight games.
So frequently, and we’ve seen it already this postseason, teams succeed in bowl games when they want to be there.
It does remain a question for the Hoosiers: Do they want to be in Tampa?
IU thought it was deserving of a top-10 ranking by the College Football Playoff Committee, and thus a spot in a New Year’s 6 bowl game, perhaps the Fiesta bowl (which matches up Oregon with three-loss Iowa State).
Does the disappointment linger? Or has Allen squashed those thoughts?
Only kickoff can give the honest answer.
The matchup seems lopsided: Arguably the Big Ten’s second-best team vs. a sub-.500, opt-out plagued opponent from the SEC. But it might not be that simple, considering Ole Miss is capable of putting up huge offensive numbers that might keep the Rebels in the game.
But the Hoosiers’ formula has been too efficient this season, and will work again in the Outback. Leading the way will be Indiana’s group in the defensive front, where not one player had more than 5 sacks but they collectively had a Big Ten-best 23 sacks. Indiana will pressure a largely weapon-less Corral into forcing plays — and turnovers — to give the Hoosiers extra possessions.
Look for Stevie Scott III, Indiana’s running back, to have a huge afternoon, as Indiana will again try to keep it easy for Tuttle. If Indiana creates turnovers and controls the clock, it cruises.
Indiana 38, Ole Miss 24