The Indiana Hoosiers (6-1) and Ole Miss Rebels (4-5) will do battle at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Saturday at 11:30am CST. The “something’s gotta give” vibe of this one is strong and fascinating to think about. Tom Allen’s defense is a cranky bunch that thrives in third-and-long situations. They will take on Lane Kiffin’s offense, one that doesn’t really care what the down-and-distance is.
WHO WILL PREVAIL!?
Before we get to Saturday, though, let’s take a look at a few games this season where Kane Wommack’s 32nd-ranked SP+ defense was challenged significantly.
In both team’s first game of the season, the Hoosiers faced the Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions. The game is most notable for Michael Penix, Jr. being introduced to the world with his touchdown pass to Whop Philyor then his two-point conversion scamper and full-extension stretch to win, 36-35.
But, Sean Clifford and the PSU offense did some damage in this one in a variety of ways.
In the first quarter in a fourth-and-goal situation, we see Clifford and the Nittany Lions go for six instead of three and Ole Miss fans will recognize this one.
Here, we see Clifford motion the tight end from the short side in tight, seemingly signaling it is an inside run and that he is being called to block the back-side end/linebacker. Alas, Clifford rides the zone read fake, selling it as a run play and sucking up the linebackers only to pull it and lob it over the line to Pat Freiermuth for six.
Another element of the offense that has been a thorn in Wommack’s side in 2020 is quarterbacks who can move the pocket and throw accurately off-platform. In this sequence, we see Clifford flushed to his right and he finds a receiver tip-toeing the sideline for a first down.
This is something that we’ve seen Matt Corral do this year and do it well. The arm talent is always on display, but he is dangerous when he gets out on the perimeter and makes the defense choose which to defend: his arm or his legs.
Clifford led the way for Penn State on this day, running for 119 yards on 17 carries. Late in the game, the offense leaned on him in short-and-manageable situations to pick up the first down with his lower half.
Much like Ole Miss and Jeff Lebby does with Snoop Conner, Clifford follows the running back through the hole on a designed-run to pick up the first down here. The Rebels have done this a few times this season with Corral. He did a ton of damage against Auburn and LSU with his legs and it could be something they circle on Saturday.
Last look at Penn State’s losing effort, we see Clifford being smart and taking what the Hoosiers gave him. This is imperative since, due to Corral’s arm talent, he likes to take chances and his supreme confidence gets him into trouble at times. Indiana is a defense that loves to create confusion and then sit in the proverbial weeds to wait on you to make a mistake.
But, here, we see Clifford not fall for the trap.
Clifford sees the Hoosiers are bringing pressure with five so instead of continuing to scan downfield to try and find the tinniest window against seven, he tucks it and gets the first down.
Corral has done this in 2020, punishing Alabama early in the year and keeping the Rebels in it against LSU two weeks ago. This is something he needs to keep in his back pocket this weekend if Ole Miss is gonna make headway against Wommack’s unit.
As we turn the page to Indiana’s matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes, their lone loss, we see a much different approach to damage. Throughout the 42-35 win, Justin Fields looked downfield and up the seam a lot.
And he did big-time damage.
On the first play from scrimmage for Ohio State, Fields freezes things for a moment with a play action fake and then strikes for a big gain between the hashes with a receiver matched up on an outside linebacker.
The Rebel offense is certainly capable of doing this, but with no Elijah Moore, no Kenny Yeboah, and no Braylon Sanders who will do it?
Ohio State had success running the football against the Hoosiers. Master Teague III (I mean, c’mon, what a name) toted it 26 times for 169 yards.
In this particular sequence, he takes your simple stretch play to the short side of the field and just outflanks the Hoosier defenders and takes it to the house.
This run is eerily similar to some we’ve seen Snoop Conner do in an Ole Miss uniform and true freshman Henry Parrish could easily do the same thing with his explosiveness and home run speed.
In this running sequence, we see Fields and Teague use Indiana’s aggressive play against them. Fields rides the inside zone fake and slips out the backdoor for an easy first down inside the 10-yard line.
Corral is more than capable of doing this if the Rebels’ No. 1 SEC rushing offense can get going and lull the Hoosier defenders to sleep, pounding Conner and Parrish between the tackles.
The ensuing play, Fields gives yet another play fake and Garrett Wilson runs a beautiful double move after a nice deke to the defender, pretending to block on the run fake. He gets on the defender quickly, showing slant only to climb to the top of the route for a quick vertical escape to find paydirt.
Corral has been crafty in the red zone this season and someone like Dontario Drummond has also been a nice weapon in the red zone, finding soft spots and hauling in touchdown receptions. This is also a spot where converted quarterback John Rhys Plumlee could use his athleticism and quickness to make a dude whiff and/or think he’s going one way only to leave him with a fist full of nothing.
Saturday is going to be difficult for Ole Miss. Indiana is fundamentally sound and they are patient with their attack. They are going to create a ton of confusion and havoc at the line of scrimmage and bank on Corral and the Rebels to make mistakes. If they don’t, it could be a high-scoring affair given the playmakers and plan that Ole Miss has.
If they are impatient and try to force the issue then Wommack’s defense will do what they have done all year: piss everyone off.
The blueprint is out there somewhat and there are ways to move the ball and score on Indiana, but Ole Miss will need to be surgical and pick their spots.
It should be a doozy!