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‘No excuse’: Hoosiers leave Tampa with second-straight bowl game disappointment

TAMPA — The Jack Tuttle-led offense marched into Ole Miss territory with a chance to win the game with a touchdown on the final possession. Tuttle was sacked for a 6-yard loss, forcing Indiana into a daunting third-and-18 situation.

Caleb Jones consoles Mackenzie Nworah following Indiana’s 26-20 loss to Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

“That really put us in a tough spot,” Tom Allen said. “It’s tough to overcome that.”

In each of the next two plays, the Indiana faithful – which occupied the vast majority of available seats in Raymond James Stadium – watched as Tuttle’s passes hit the ground before reaching his receivers. 

Tuttle finished the game completing 26 of his 45 pass attempts for 201 yards and one interception. While Tuttle took a step down from his performance against Wisconsin, where he led Indiana to victory in his first collegiate start, he had to battle through injury Saturday.

Allen said after the game that Tuttle was playing with a separated shoulder. It was clear on some of Tuttle’s throws that he was unable to generate enough power to execute certain passes. 

“I thought he was a warrior today,” Allen said. “He played through some serious pain.”

Tuttle said the pain in his shoulder was consistent throughout the game. He was visibly distraught after the game, but said this loss will provide additional motivation to keep improving. 

“There’s no excuse,” Tuttle said. “I’ve got to find a way to get the job done. We’ll come back stronger.”

Whop Philyor was Tuttle’s favorite target Saturday, setting an Outback Bowl record with 18 receptions. However, Philyor struggled to be effective after most of his receptions. The Tampa native finished with 81 receiving yards, which is good for 4.5 yards per reception.

“Whop’s a special player,” Tuttle said. “Getting him the ball is super important.”

But even when the Hoosiers faced a 20-6 deficit with 9:20 remaining in the third quarter, they didn’t throw in the towel. Going into the game, Ole Miss was the statistically-worst run defense in the SEC, allowing 211.2 yards per game on the ground.

After spending much of the first half trying to pick apart the Rebel defense through the air, offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan decided to try to exploit this weakness. Against the Ole Miss defense, it didn’t take fancy play calls to have success on the ground.

Stevie Scott took two direct snaps from the 2- and 3-yard lines to punch in two scores for Indiana, tying the game at 20. Scott joins Anthony Thompson and Antwaan Randle El as the only Hoosiers to score at least 10 rushing touchdowns in three-straight seasons.

Scott finished the game with 19 carries for 99 yards, but could have finished with even more. Allen was clearly frustrated on the sideline after a few plays where he believed the officials blew the whistle too early, and Scott agreed. 

“Moving the pile forward, that’s something we love to do,” Scott said. “It was frustrating that [the whistle] was so quick when we were still moving the ball.”

However, the Indiana offense still fell far short of expectations against an Ole Miss defense that gives up the most yards per game in the SEC. Scoring just 20 points, this game marks the lowest point total for an Ole Miss opponent this season, behind teams such as Kentucky, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. 

“Chuck (Campbell) did a good job of hitting a couple field goals, but man, we wanted some touchdowns,” Allen said.

In a season filled with program-firsts, the Indiana football team worked diligently to dispel its reputation of being the losingest team in FBS history. The Hoosiers gained national media attention after inspirational wins over Penn State and Wisconsin, and proved legitimacy after falling by just seven points to Ohio State, which has been the Buckeyes’ toughest challenge of the season to this point.

But after a loss to a 4-5 Ole Miss team that was without its top three receivers and leading rusher, much of that work has gone to waste.

The Hoosiers felt disrespected after not earning a bid to the Fiesta Bowl or Citrus Bowl, but maybe that was the correct decision after all. Wisconsin remains the only team Indiana has beaten over the last two seasons to finish the year with a winning record. 

Perhaps the biggest reason Indiana wasn’t able to defeat Ole Miss and prove the selection committee wrong was because it did not force a turnover on Saturday. Ole Miss won the turnover battle 2-0 by picking off Tuttle and forcing a Philyor fumble.

Indiana had forced at least two turnovers in each of its games this season, but will leave Tampa regretting not being able to create these game-changing plays.

“That’s not how you win football games,” Allen said. “I’m the head coach and this loss falls on me.”

My name is Jack Ankony and I am a sophomore from Mount Prospect, Illinois. I am a huge Chicago sports fan who loves to write and talk about sports.

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