Game Summary - January 2, 2021

January 2, 2021
Ole Miss Rebels677626
#11 Indiana Hoosiers3031420

By Joey Johnston

For the Ole Miss Rebels, Saturday's Outback Bowl appearance was more than the program's first postseason game in five years.

It was a springboard to a new era.

After wrapping up a 26-20 victory against the No. 11-ranked Indiana Hoosiers at Raymond James Stadium, the Rebels let loose with their emotions.

"They were celebrating like it was the Super Bowl,'' said Ole Miss first-year coach Lane Kiffin, who presided over the SEC's most productive offense. "It was great to see. The program has gone through some tough times. The fans have gone through some tough times. But better days are coming.''

And they began at the Outback Bowl.

After the Hoosiers scored two straight fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie the game20-20, the Rebels (5-5) regained the lead on Matt Corral's 3-yard pass to Dontario Drummond with 4:12 remaining. But Luke Logan's PAT attempt was wide right, keeping the margin at six points and making for some anxious moments.

That's when the Ole Miss defense - not a season-long strong point - came up especially big.

The Hoosiers (6-2) drove to the Rebel 33-yard line in the final minutes, but Ole Miss buckled down.

Two Indiana plays lost yardage and there was an incomplete pass, bringing upfourth-and-18. Hoosiers quarterback Jack Tuttle tried to make something happen but he was pressured by Ole Miss linebacker Sam Williams, who forced another errant pass attempt.

Nobody expected the Ole Miss defense to save the day.

But the 35th Outback Bowl was destined to be different.

It became an entertaining show in the fourth quarter. The buildup and game-day environment, though, included things that Outback Bowl supporters had never seen.

Even if you weren't wearing a helmet, face masks were required. The fans, enthusiastic as always, were socially distanced. The competing teams slipped into town without the bowl-week array of good-time activities that Tampa Bay's signature college-football event always offers.

But even before the Rebels wrapped up the victory against the Hoosiers, who were seeking their first bowl win since 1991 after a breakthrough season in the Big Ten Conference, this was a triumph for everyone.

The show went on.

The game was played.

Visitors had a good time.

Everyone was safe.

With America in the throes of a COVID-19 pandemic, the Outback Bowl successfully adjusted its game plan and provided its traditional SEC/Big Ten clash before11,025 fans and millions of ABC-TV viewers.

"We are very grateful,'' Outback Bowl president/CEO Jim McVay said. "The virus doesn't discriminate. It doesn't know the difference between the regular season and the postseason.

"Thank goodness that Indiana did a great job for us, Ole Miss did a great job for us and the good Lord blessed us. The circumstances to cause a cancellation could've happened to any bowl game. Everyone has had a rough eight or nine months. We're happy we didn't have a health issue and we're happy that our staff and community rallied to put on this game.''

It became a game of notable performances.

Indiana place-kicker Charles Campbell had two field goals of 50 yards or better ,including an Outback Bowl-record 53-yarder.

Hoosiers wide receiver Whop Philyor, a product of Tampa's Plant High School, celebrated his homecoming game by setting an Outback Bowl record for receptions (18 catches for 81 yards). Indiana running back Stevie Scott rushed for 99 yards, including a pair of touchdowns on direct snaps.

But overall, the story was Ole Miss - on both sides of the ball.

Rebels quarterback Matt Corral, the Outback Bowl Most Valuable Player, completed 30 of44 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns, while Drummond finished with six catches for 110 yards. In all, eight different Rebels caught passes.

"Alot of people stepped up, not only on the defensive side, but offensive-wise, too,'' Corral said. "We had as many as five or six receivers in the rotation, maybe more, and they just sucked it up. They were tired. They were hurting. But so was Indiana. That's what kept them going.

"The difference was that the defense stepped up and they made the stop. The defense won us that game. It's plain and simple. They finished it for us. We didn't need to go out there on the field again. We just had to take a knee.''

For Ole Miss, it was actually a below-average offensive performance as it finished with 493 total yards (coming down from the 500-yard mark after some late-game down-the-ball plays). The Rebels had set the SEC record for total offense in conference games (562.4 yards per game), while ranking in the top 20 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in 10 categories, including total offense, scoring offense, rushing offense, passing offense and first downs.

The Rebels pulled away at 13-3 on Corral's 5-yard pass to Casey Kelly in the second quarter, completing an 18-play, 76-yard drive. At that point, Ole Miss had 247total yards to just 80 for Indiana.

Inthe third quarter, Ole Miss extended the lead to 20-6 on Snoop Conner's 4-yardrun, which he set up with a 33-yard scamper on the preceding play.

Indiana was not done, though.

"That's a very good Indiana team,'' Kiffin said.

Ultimately, though, the Hoosiers weren't quite good enough.

"We're disappointed for our players because they've been through so much,'' Indiana coach Tom Allen said. "It has just been an amazing season for so many different reasons. I'm just heartbroken for them that they weren't able to finish with a win. At the same time, you've got to take it like a man when you fall short. We didn't make enough plays.''

Still,i t became a fun game with a memorable finish.

"We're very appreciative of both teams because they put on a great show,'' McVay said. "What we learned through all of this was how important all of the activities are for a lot of people. The Outback Bowl is a reason for people to celebrate and have a lot of fun. It makes a huge difference to our local economy.

"We are looking forward to having that back next year and filling up all the hotels. I can't say enough about the job everyone did under difficult circumstances to put on our game.''

The Outback Bowl is more than a game, though.

Even in the difficult year, McVay said the Outback Bowl will follow through with its charitable giving program, which will distribute $500,000 to charities in the coming months.

"We've been privileged to serve our community for 35 years now,'' McVay said. "We will continue to give back. That will never change.

"We weren't able to do the things we normally do. No bowl game was able to do that. But we were able to stage another terrific game and we're grateful for that opportunity.''