Editor’s note: Former longtime sports editor Bubba Burnham of Sumner submitted this firsthand account of the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl, which was intended for publication in the Jan 7 edition of The Sun-Sentinel.
TAMPA, Fla. — Strapped with a losing record in a football season unlike any other since World War II, the Ole Miss Rebels capped off their 2020 gridiron season with a 26-20 momentum-builder bowl victory over No. 7 (AP poll) Indiana in the 26th annual Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium here. The Rebs were 8-point underdogs going in, according to the Vegas oddsmakers.
First-year coach Lane Kiffin’s Rebels ended the campaign with a 5-5 record that included four wins in their final five tilts with the lone loss coming at LSU in the waning moments on Dec. 12.
On Saturday, Ole Miss led the Big 10 Hoosiers almost the entire afternoon.
With a passing attack led by underclassman Matt Corral, the Rebs turned a 6-3 first quarter lead into a 13-3 halftime advantage. Ole Miss extended its margin to 20-6 as the final 15 minutes began to tick away.
The much-maligned Rebel defense — which entered the postseason contest allowing a whopping 40 points per game — quite possibly had its finest hour against the Hoosiers.
Indiana finally hit paydirt on the first play of the final stanza, closing the gap to 20-13. After forcing an Ole Miss punt on its next possession, the Hoosiers once again marched down the field to knot the contest at 20-20 with just under 6 minutes left to play.
With 5:58 remaining, Corral used his passing hand to turn up the heat, taking his Rebels to the promised land at the 4:12 mark. Leading 26-20, Ole Miss placekicker Luke Logan shanked the PAT, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
For the third consecutive time in the fourth period, the Hoosiers methodically mounted a ferocious offensive attack in hopes of pulling out a one-point victory — thanks to Logan’s misfire.
But the Mississippi “D” stiffened in the final minute, getting a turnover on downs at the Ole Miss 41 with just 55 seconds remaining.
Using the “victory formation,” the Rebels were able to notch their 25th bowl win against just 13 setbacks — one of the best bowl records in Division I football.
Kiffin and Ole Miss will now have much-needed momentum to build on in preparation for next fall’s 2021 gridiron season.
The victorious Rebels are scheduled to open the season Sept. 4 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta against the Louisville Cardinals and will even get a Nov. 4 visit to Vaught-Hemingway from former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and his nationally-ranked Liberty Flames.