Indiana Daily Student

OPINION: IU football and the Outback Bowl, a lesson in Hoosier humility

<p>Junior defensive back Jamar Johnson and junior defensive back Devon Mathews prepare to tackle their opponent Jan. 2 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Hoosiers finished out their season with a 20-26 loss against Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl. </p>

Junior defensive back Jamar Johnson and junior defensive back Devon Mathews prepare to tackle their opponent Jan. 2 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Hoosiers finished out their season with a 20-26 loss against Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl.

For many IU fans, the last couple weeks have been a period of blissful ignorance insisting the Hoosiers deserved more than they were given. 

Why should a three-loss University of Florida make a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl when it’s just going to treat the Cotton Bowl like a scrimmage and get eviscerated 55-20? 

How can anyone think IU wouldn’t match up with a traditional powerhouse when it came two touchdowns closer to toppling Ohio State than the College Football Playoff Selection Committee's beloved Clemson University?

Well, if you’re searching for answers, a 26-20 defeat to University of Mississippi in the Outback Bowl seems like a sensible choice.

In the wake of a 4-5 regular season and with 28 players unavailable, Ole Miss had every reason not to show up. The Hoosiers arrived angry, shoulders laden with chips, yet looked completely disorganized.

Senior wide receiver Whop Philyor runs the ball Jan. 2 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Philyor rushed eight yards during the Outback Bowl against Ole Miss. Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics

It’s fun to proudly claim your team is excellent based on the failure of others, but it also means IU needed to beat a significantly depleted University of Mississippi by about 40 points to justify all the peacocking. 

Instead, the generally stout Hoosier defense surrendered 493 yards while the offense tallied the fewest points of any squad this season to face the Ole Miss defense, which ranks No. 127 in the nation. 

Related: [IU defense fails to match fast-paced Ole Miss offense in 26-20 Outback Bowl loss]

It shouldn’t come as too great a surprise that the Hoosiers had trouble keeping pace with Ole Miss’ no-huddle look. After all, IU spent most of its conference slate stopping the likes of Michigan State and Wisconsin, which operate with the blinding speed of a crippled snail in quicksand. 

As often as the Hoosiers win due to its staunch defense and stellar playmakers, they eke out victories in spite of frustrating offensive inefficiency. 

For nearly three quarters, that offense was a complete non-factor.

You can pretend your school is too good for a bowl game named for a chain steakhouse until footage of a sideline reporter chowing down on a blooming onion is more exhilarating than its scoring efforts. 

The faceless entity that is IU football was certainly solid in 2020, but the Hoosiers are a fundamentally different group without sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. under center. 

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jack Tuttle runs the ball Jan. 2 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Tuttle had 201 passing yards against Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl. Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics

Even though sophomore quarterback Jack Tuttle is tough as nails, IU can’t just hammer him into a scheme carefully crafted for someone else.

There’s nobody I’d rather have than head coach Tom Allen to rally a locker room and turn around a program, but Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin was the demonstrably superior strategist at Raymond James Stadium.

Ole Miss’ home run offense had to rely on bunts all afternoon, but enough base hits add up, especially when your opponent keeps grounding out. 

While Kiffin accepted the limits of his hamstrung passing game versus a top-notch secondary and went conservative, Allen had a backup quarterback with a separated shoulder heave deep shots for the better part of a the second half. 

It wasn’t until the end of the third quarter that the Hoosiers started giving junior running back Stevie Scott III more touches, a textbook definition of too little, too late.

No football team is as bad as its greatest failure. Not every defeat is a grand exposure of an incompetent unit. Sometimes, good teams come out flat, and that shouldn’t nullify a schedule full of quality performances.

Related: [IU football can’t outrun its shortcomings, falls to Ole Miss in Outback Bowl]

I want to stress that IU is still a remarkable story and has been a pleasure to watch in a largely joyless year. Allen is a tremendous leader with a young roster brimming with talent, making for a future much brighter than the Hoosiers’ showing today.

IU consistently played well and accomplished more this season than it has in a few decades, so it doesn't deserve a fleet of vindicated Twitter users calling it a fraud. 

However, if you were among the hot take artists insisting Florida or Clemson were secretly trash all along, then yes — you could probably use a slice of humble pie. 

To the Hoosier faithfuls who made jabs at other schools that may or may not have actually been any worse than IU, let this be a lesson.

If you’re going to take bold swings, you have to be willing to stomach a big Ole Miss.

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