What a long, strange trip it’s been to get to this point. Possibly the best season for the Indiana Hoosiers in decades is set to finish in Tampa at the Outback Bowl on January 2nd. And while many thousands of words have been written about how we ended up here (and plenty of reasons why we should be playing one day earlier), the important thing is that this represents a very good chance for Indiana to break a nearly 30 year bowl win drought.
And in a funny way, this Ole Miss squad is the perfect opponent for Indiana. Because the Rebels are very much reminiscent of Indiana about 6 or 7 years ago. Some stats, shamelessly stolen from another site: Ole Miss both scores and gives up about 40 points per game, accumulates 562 yards per game and allows 536 yards, and allowed multiple opponents to break 50 points against them. While neither the 2013 nor 2015 Hoosiers were quite that prolific on offense yardage (and defense numbers don’t get recorded everywhere for some reason), you could very easily imagine, if given a similar opportunity, those teams being the other side of this game.
Some names to know (assuming they’re available): Matt Corral helms the Rebel offense, with just under 3,000 yards passing on the year. Getting pressure on him will be key for the Hoosiers, both for their usual game plan of forcing turnovers, and also because many of his usual weapons might not suit up for the game, whether due to injury, illness, or opt-out. One of those weapons, running back Jerrion Ealy, is questionable to appear at all due to injury, and might still be very limited if he is able to suit up. Among Ole Miss’ pass catchers, top receiver Elijah Moore has opted out of the season, as has tight end Kenny Yeboah. Third leading receiver by yardage Braylon Sanders is also unlikely to go due to injury, meaning over two-thirds of the Rebels’ receiving yards this year will be out of the Outback Bowl even if every other able-bodied receiver suits up.
For the defense, Lakia Henry and Jacquez Jones lead the Rebels in tackles (62 each), AJ Finley leads the team in interceptions (3), and Henry is one of four Rebels tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (2 apiece). While the Rebels have forced more fumbles than the Hoosiers, Indiana has more interceptions as a team (17) than the Rebels have total turnovers forced (15).
Prediction: There is a lot of reason to believe that Indiana should take over this game. A whole lot of important contributors for the Hoosiers are from the Tampa area or lived there for a while, there’s a bit of a chip on their shoulders from the CFP committee, and Ole Miss is not exactly the best team in the SEC right now. The two things that the Hoosiers need to do in this game are come out strong on offense, and continue to be a defense that forces opponents into major mistakes. I’m a little cautious, given that our one full game sample size of the Jack Tuttle Experience was a 14-6 rock fight, but assuming that’s more on Wisconsin also having a good defense, I’m taking the Hoosiers to finally snap their bowl game losing streak and come away with a 35-14 win.