Thursday, June 24, 2021

Ole Miss Defense Finally Steps Up in the Outback Bowl

By Adam Brown
Sports Editor

Indiana quarterback Jack Tuttle is tackled by the Ole Miss defense. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Sports/Joshua McCoy.

The Ole Miss Rebels capped off the 2020 season with a 26-20 victory over the No.11 Indiana Hoosiers in the Outback Bowl.

The Rebel defense, which was arguably one of the worst defenses in the country over the course of the season, prevented a late comeback from the Hoosiers in the final minutes of the game.

“We talked about it all week. We are going to need that,” Coach Lane Kiffin said. “We are not going to be able to score 60 points… We knew that it was going to be a struggle.”

The success on the defensive side of the ball came as a welcome surprise. While the Ole Miss offense put up big numbers in a lot of games during the 2020 season, the defense consistently struggled. Ole Miss allowed more yards per game than any other FBS team.

This was the first time that the defense managed to hold their own against a highly ranked opponent.

The 369 yards gained by Indiana were the fewest allowed by Ole Miss all season. The Hoosiers only managed to score six points during the first three quarters of the game, and the Rebels forced multiple turnovers for only the third time in the season.

Prior to kickoff, Ole Miss announced a contract extension with head coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin said the extension was a sign of commitment from both himself and Ole Miss, and that he is “just getting started”.

The Outback Bowl was the first bowl win for the Ole Miss program since the team beat Oklahoma State in the 2016 Sugar Bowl.

While the defense certainly pulled their own weight, offensive players like John Rhys Plumlee also stepped up. Although he would normally step in at quarterback behind Matt Corral, Plumlee played in Saturday’s game as a receiver.

Quarterback Matt Corral’s performance against Indiana with 342 yards passing and two touchdowns earned him Outback Bowl MVP.

“It means a lot,” Corral said. “I would have not been able to do this without the guys stepping up.”

According to Kiffin, the atmosphere in the locker room following the win was as if the team had just won the Super Bowl.

“It was awesome to see, and we celebrated it,” Kiffin said. “A very hard year for a lot of people and a very cool moment.”