TAMPA, FL. (WFIE) - Stevie Scott III gave thanks. No, not for Saturday’s 26-20 Outback Bowl loss to Ole Miss, but for the opportunity, the season, the moment. “Thankful to be part of this, part of that change,” Indiana’s junior running back said. “It’s sad we didn’t cap off the year like we wanted.” Scott paused in this Zoom moment. There was much to consider in a season that included a pandemic and a Top-10 national ranking. His 99 rushing yards and two touchdowns on Saturday gave him 586 yards and a third-straight season with 10 TDs. “We’ve broken through. It’s just the start.”
Seventh-ranked Indiana finished 6-2 with plenty of accomplishments to appreciate. Just not so much right now. “Guys are upset,” kicker Charles Campbell said. “It’s tough to see. This could be some guys’ last game. Everyone is down.” He, too, paused. Yes, he had set an Outback Bowl record for 50-yard field goals (2). Yes, his 53-yarder set an IU record for a bowl game. But it wasn’t enough. “I did my job, but I’m taking this hard. It’s a heart-breaking loss for sure.”
The Hoosiers pushed hard to avoid it. They had a battered quarterback. Slipping receivers. Dropped passes. Bad throws. Hot and humid weather. Growing fatigue. A double-digit deficit. Turnovers. Cramping players. Adversity came in all forms, and as Scott said, “We can’t have excuses on why we didn’t get the job done. It’s still our job to play and pull out the win.” The Hoosiers nearly did. In a furious second-half comeback, they forged a pair of gut-check, 80-yard drives totaling 27 plays and 14 points for a 20-20 tie with six minutes left. Ole Miss (5-5) needed two minutes to score a touchdown and miss an extra point.
For Indiana, it came down to this -- four minutes to blast away 29 years of bowl futility. At the end, it was this simple: IU needed a stop and didn’t get it. Ole Miss needed a stop, and did. “I’m disappointed for our players,” head coach Tom Allen said. “They’ve been through so much. What an amazing season it’s been in so many ways. They’ve given so much. Worked so hard. I’m heartbroken for them they weren’t able to finish. “This will hurt for a while.”
Quarterback Jack Tuttle played most of the game with a separated right (throwing) shoulder, the result of a series of hits. He played through it, finishing 26-for-45 for 201 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. “(The pain) was there constantly,” he said. “I’ve got to find a way to make it happen.” Allen said halftime X-rays showed Tuttle had a shoulder separation and not the feared broken collarbone. He could play, but it would hurt. “It affected him,” Allen said. “He was a warrior. He played through some serious pain. He had to suck it up. He was still running and diving. He competed his tail off. He’s a tough kid.” Added Scott: “For him to stay out there and get the job done, it shows he’s very strong and mentally tough. I appreciate him stepping up and being a leader.”
Receiver Whop Philyor was the busiest man in college football. He set an IU record with 18 catches for 81 yards. He also ran once for eight yards. “He is a special player,” Tuttle said. “Getting him the ball was supper important.” Ole Miss was without several key offensive players from a 40-point-a-game attack, but not without speed and skill. It had a quarterback (Matt Corral) ready for a big game (342 passing yards, 2 touchdowns) without throwing interceptions (he had zero after throwing for 14 during the regular season), and a head coach (Lane Kiffin) well prepared to maximize it. That included using back-up quarterback JR Plumlee as a receiver (5 catches, 73 yards).
The Rebels’ fast pace kept IU from substituting, and brought fatigue to a unit that had been limited in workouts in recent weeks because of COVID-19 issues. Still, the Hoosiers held Ole Miss to 14 points below its average, and gave themselves a chance. “Tempo played a factor,” linebacker Micah McFadden said. “A lot of guys were tightening up. It was tough to get subs in. They were going fast. “We practiced for that, but there’s not much we could do about preparing for the heat and fatigue.” Ole Miss opened the game with a 21-yard completion. A 35-yard pass play followed. The Rebels were inside the IU 5-yard line before settling for a 26-yard field goal. IU countered with an opening 14-yard completion to Philyor before punting.
On Ole Miss’s next possession, cornerback Reese Taylor just missed a pick-6 and the Hoosiers forced a three-and-out, then got a 50-yard Campbell field goal for a 3-3 tie. The Rebels came back with another field goal and then a touchdown pass for a 13-3 lead midway through the second quarter A Tuttle interception ended a scoring threat, but the defense forced a punt to give the Hoosiers a final first-half chance – starting from inside their own 5-yard line. They eventually punted, with Tuttle clutching his right arm in obvious discomfort. IU ended the half by blocking a field goal for a 13-3 deficit. Campbell opened the third quarter with that 53-yard field goal. Ole Miss responded with a touchdown for a 20-6 lead.
The Hoosiers went to tough-guy mode, driving behind a battered Tuttle. They got to the 3-yard line before Scott ran out of the Wildcat for a TD to start the fourth quarter. That made it 20-13. Indiana got the ball back after the Rebels missed a 37-yard field goal. A crucial leaping third-down catch by receiver Miles Marshall, followed by an Ole Miss pass interference call on Ty Fryfogle, set up Scott’s second Wildcat formation touchdown run for a 20-20 tie with six minutes left. Two minutes later, Ole Miss scored a touchdown, but missed the extra point.
Down 26-20 with 4:12 left, IU had the ball and a chance. And then it didn’t. “This was a season for the ages,” Allen said in a somber aftermath. “With all we’ve been through, it’s been so hard. Everybody has been through this. “Our guys chose to play. This is a special group. It will lay a foundation for next year.” As Campbell put it, “I’m ready to get back to work.” Added Tuttle: “We’ll come back stronger.”