The staff at Crimson Quarry are great. Don’t let the anger that is coursing through their proverbial veins from being snubbed from an access bowl after their best season ever distract you from the fact that we are huge fans of theirs and are looking forward to a fun American football contest with them in the Florida sunshine!
Here’s our Q&A with Mike Miller from one of the best blogs around:
How mad are Indiana folk about their best team ever playing a sub .500 SEC team in a non-access bowl?
MM: It feels like most of the anger and frustration with the process has subsided since Christmas. At this point, folks just want to see this Indiana team play one more time. It’s been a fun ride and, given how IU basketball has become an absolute chore to watch, I don’t think anyone wants this football season to end. But yeah, there’s a sense that this sets up to be an unfulfilling finish for IU — or at least for the fan base — win or lose.
I say that with all due respect, but hopefully you understand what I’m getting at. Ole Miss going 4-5 playing an all-SEC schedule in the first year of a regime change is not nothing, but it’s now working with what looks to be a depleted roster. Lose, and it’s an awful look for Indiana. Win, and nobody outside of Bloomington really cares. That said, there’s still some value to actually winning a postseason game, whatever the case may be. Indiana has only won three bowl games in its history, and none since the Copper Bowl in 1991.
For IU, this season has been all about exorcising the demons that have haunted its program — losing streaks vs. top-10 teams, vs. Michigan, vs. Wisconsin, at Michigan State — and after last January’s collapse in the Gator Bowl, I think the folks inside the locker room are hungry for a postseason victory, however it comes.
Could Michael Penix, Jr’s absence on Saturday be the difference?
MM: Losing Penix was definitely a blow. Not only because he proved to be one of the most skilled quarterbacks in the Big Ten, but because he really seemed to grow into his role as the emotional leader of the offense. It felt like guys genuinely believed in him, trusted his command of the playbook, and fed off of his ability to pull a little magic from his sleeve from time to time.
All that said, the drop-off didn’t look too severe earlier this month at Wisconsin — IU’s only full game without Penix this season. It feels like a billion years ago at this point, but that game illustrated Indiana’s depth in its quarterback room. Jack Tuttle backed up his high school bona fides and looked confident in his responsibilities. Yeah, Penix’s ACL injury was bad for business, but IU’s offense seems to be in good hands.
It just went from the player Rivals ranked as the No. 14 pro-style quarterback in the 2018 recruiting cycle to the guy considered to be the fifth-best passer in that same class. That’s a luxury that IU has seldom enjoyed at that position.
What do you expect from Jack Tuttle against the worst secondary in the country?
MM: In the Wisconsin game, Tuttle demonstrated that he could make the necessary throws. But what was most impressive was the way he handled pressure. That was something Penix did especially well this season, staring down charging defenders and stepping into throws as the heat increased. And not only did Tuttle make smart plays with Badgers in his face, he made really impressive throws under stress.
So I think a lot of folks are eager to see what he can do in a game where the pocket has the potential to be clean more often than not.
Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby’s offense leads the SEC in yards per game and is 3rd overall in the country. What do you think Kane Wommack’s plan will be to slow them down?
MM: Wommack has done a great job of finding creative ways to bring pressure, disguise coverages and confuse quarterbacks into thinking IU will do one thing when they’re actually about to do something different. With IU, confusion is the name of the game. That’s what got him the South Alabama head coaching gig earlier this month, and I’d expect pretty much the same general approach on Saturday.
Pressure is definitely something I think you’ll see a lot of in this game. IU has really enjoyed bringing it from all different angles — from the corners, straight through the middle, you name it. And Wommack’s been able to do and try a lot of different things thanks to the athleticism in the secondary, a deep group that includes two of the Big Ten’s best defenders in corner Tiawan Mullen and safety Jamar Johnson.
Altogether, it’s been a defense that has done a really good job of limiting explosive plays, a trend that will be worth monitoring in a matchup like this.
With Elijah Moore opting out and Jerrion Ealy unlikely to play, who is Indiana’s primary concern now on Ole Miss’ offense?
MM: Good question! That seems to be the question for both sides, given the departures and injury issues. Outside of Corral, Braylon Sanders was my first thought, but it seems he’s a bit iffy to go.
So … [shrug] … Snoop Conner?
Give us a prediction.
MM: It’s a shame that the rosters for both sides aren’t a bit more fortified because this matchup would’ve been a much more interesting game of strength vs. strength a few weeks ago.
At this point, I’m just having a hard time seeing Ole Miss’ offense, with all of its potential holes this week, operating at its usual pace.
Indiana 34, Ole Miss 20