Final takeaways from Ole Miss' Outback Bowl victory
Ole Miss capped its 2020 season with a 26-20 win over 11th-ranked Indiana in the Outback Bowl, the program’s first bowl appearance and win since the January 2016 Sugar Bowl.
The Rebels went 5-5 under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin in a season littered with unique challenges, one that can only be classified as an overwhelming success.
Let’s take a look at some positional grades as well as a couple big-picture thoughts on the 2020 season.
Matt Corral rebounded from a 6-turnover game his last time out at LSU to the tune of a 342-yard performance. He went 30-for-44 with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions. Context makes Corral’s game even more impressive considering he was without his top 3 receiving targets as well as starting running back Jerrion Ealy.
Indiana led the Big Ten in interceptions and sacks. The Hoosiers do a fantastic job of disguising both blitzes and coverages and this seemed like a potential recipe for disaster for a short-handed Ole Miss team and Corral’s propensity to turn the football over. The Rebels neutralized Indiana’s defensive craftiness by utilizing tempo as well they have in any of their ten games this year. Corral was accurate and decisive and carried this Ole Miss offense for a lot of the game. This was as fantastic way for Corral to end this season, particularly given his struggles at LSU to end the regular season.
Running backs: B
Ole Miss being without Ealy due to a sprained ankle definitely made running the football more difficult, but the Rebels had enough success. Henry Parrish led in rushing with 63 yards on 17 carries. Ole Miss ran for 147 yards on 35 carries, a serviceable number. Snoop Conner broke a long run in the second half, but outside of that, it was a heavy dosage of 3-5 yard gains. Parrish came on strong in the final 2 games and pushed for more playing time. With all three backs returning next season, the Rebels are poised to have a deep and diverse backfield.
Wide receivers: B+
Ole Miss’ receivers also bounced back from the LSU game.
The passing game accounted for 342 of Ole Miss’ 493 yards of offense. Dontario Drummond had a 100-yard game, Casey Kelly made an impact at tight end and John Rhys Plumlee saw his first extensive action at slot receiver. Plumlee secured arguably the game’s 2 biggest catches and totaled 73 yards on 5 catches. He showed dependable hands and the foot speed that makes him such an enticing weapon.
This was the biggest storyline to come out of this game and both changes his individual and the team’s collective outlook on next season. Ole Miss still needs more consistency and depth at this position, but Saturday’s performance by this receiving corps, against an opportunistic and athletic secondary, likely as Kiffin and Jeff Lebby feeling much better about this group heading into 2021.
Offensive line: B
Corral was only sacked twice but there was a little bit left to be desired as it pertains to run blocking. The line played more than well enough to give Ole Miss a chance, but a Nick Broeker personal foul likely cost the team 4 points on the opening drive and the Rebels struggled with consistency in the running game at times. This was not the line’s best performance of the season, but is likely in the top half. Especially considering IU led the Big Ten in sacks.
With the core of this line returning next season, Ole Miss has the potential to be even better and deeper up front next year.
Defensive line: B
Defense undoubtedly won the Outback Bowl. The Rebels, who still boast the worst defense in the SEC, held Indiana to just a pair of field goals through three quarters — by far their best performance of this 2020 season. The defensive line recorded a pair of sacks and got more consistent pressure on quarterback Jack Tuttle, which helped the secondary play better as well. Tuttle averaged just 4 yards per completion and went 26-for-45 with no touchdowns and a pick in his second game since taking over for an injured Michael Penix Jr. The stat sheet won’t necessarily reflect it, but the Rebels — who have struggled tremendously to generate a consistent pass rush — put consistent pressure on Tuttle and it had an effect on the game.
This is Ole Miss’ greatest position of need heading into next year. It needs more depth and athleticism on the edge and better talent on the interior defensive line. The Rebels addressed these needs in their 2021 recruiting class, but the current personnel held their own in this game.
Lakia Henry didn’t play, but Jacquez Jones did a good job mitigating Henry’s absence. Jones led the team in tackles with 13 and had a tackle for loss and Momo Sanogo played well too. Jones will presumably be back and Henry already announced he planned on returning in 2021. This group lacks in depth, but its frontline guys are serviceable SEC defenders. The defense as a whole needs to be better in 2021, but the Rebels should feel good about what they have at linebacker heading into next season.
This may have been the best game the secondary has played this year. They limited Tuttle to just 4 yards a completion and created a pair of turnovers. Otis Reese had an interception and Tylan Knight forced a fumble at a crucial time in the game. This group struggled to begin this season and they still rank as one of the worst passing defenses in the sport, but they undoubtedly got better as the season went on. With most everyone back next season and having Reese for a full year should help make for a much-improved group in 2021.
The Outback Bowl was important for a number of reasons, but how they won — with the defense making key plays — gives the Rebels all kinds of optimism headline into the offseason and beyond.