As IU football and the University of Mississippi raced for a fourth-quarter finish during the Outback Bowl on Saturday in Tampa, Florida, it was a backup quarterback that made the biggest play of the game.
But he wasn’t playing for the Hoosiers.
Following back-to-back touchdown drives by the IU offense to tie the game at 20 late in the fourth quarter, Ole Miss sophomore John Rhys Plumlee split the right side of the defense on a 44-yard catch. Two plays later, Ole Miss scored a game-winning touchdown.
The IU defense was torched for 493 total yards in a 26-20 loss by an Ole Miss team that was missing its top two wide receivers, and for the first time all season, the Hoosiers did not force a turnover.
“We just needed a takeaway,” IU head coach Tom Allen said. “Not having any is just not how we’ve been successful. Whether it’s a bowl game or a regular season game, you’ve got a formula for success. And when you don’t stick with that formula, oftentimes you don’t get what you want.”
Despite IU dominating the time of possession by more than 10 minutes, Allen said the pace of Ole Miss’ offense combined with the Florida weather was a tough combination for the defense to handle.
In the first half, Ole Miss reached the red zone three times, but twice the Hoosiers’ defense forced them to kick field goals.
However, Ole Miss took advantage of IU’s only three-and-out of the game and marched down the field on an 18-play, 76-yard scoring drive. Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Matt Corral threw a five-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Casey Kelly with 7:17 left in the second quarter.
Corral finished the first half completing 22 of his 33 passes for 235 yards and added 25 more on the ground.
“He’s definitely elusive,” IU junior linebacker Micah McFadden said. ”He creates plays with his feet and can get the ball down the field to keep plays alive, which played a factor in this game and helped them win the game.”
The Hoosiers could only muster a field goal as Ole Miss took a 13-3 lead into halftime. Ole Miss finished the first half with 295 yards of total offense, which more than doubled IU.
The Hoosiers opened the second half with an eight-play, 40-yard drive that resulted in a 53-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Charles Campbell, but Ole Miss still led 13-6.
By the end of the game, Corral completed passes to eight different receivers and the IU defense struggled to fight fatigue after not playing in four weeks. The Hoosiers’ offense managed to score two touchdowns in the second half, but so too did Ole Miss.
With IU’s crimson jerseys darkened by sweat, Ole Miss totaled 12 plays of 15 or more yards, and Corral finished with 342 yards passing and two touchdowns.
McFadden said he noticed his teammates tiring as the game progressed, and it inevitably cost them a chance to come away with an Outback Bowl victory. The Hoosiers have now lost back-to-back bowl games.
“It was tough to get subs in, and they were definitely moving on us and going fast,” McFadden said. “We kind of knew they were going to do that, and we practiced to prepare. But there wasn’t really much we could do to prepare for the heat, and the exhaustion and fatigue at the end.”