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The Cage Dive: Ole Miss showed Indiana ‘Hoosier’ daddy

Rebel football is back in a big way.

Joshua Mccoy - Ole Miss Athletics

Ole Miss football is 1-0 in bowl games under Lane Kiffin. LFG. Saturday’s victory may have been closer than it should have been down the stretch, but an Outback Bowl win over the No. 11 team in the country trumps any negativity. This will be only good things.

Here are the five major takeaways from a game that tasted as good as a bloomin’ onion:

Defense wins championships.

The Rebels do not beat the Hoosiers without the performance from its defense. A group that has struggled all season did the unthinkable on Saturday and held its opponents under 21 points. Indiana completed only 26 of its 46 pass attempts for 201 yards without a touchdown through the air and ran for 168 yards on 40 carries. To keep a team that ran nearly 90 plays under 400 yards of offense is a strong showing. For the 2020 Ole Miss team, it really doesn’t get any better. Give the entire unit a helmet sticker.

What was even more impressive, perhaps, was that the Landsharks allowed a 41 percent third down conversion rate. That was the lowest all season. Jacquez Jones led the box score with 13 tackles, but it was the secondary that really stood out. No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. A.J. Finley and Otis Reese had a second-best nine tackles and Reese had an interception. He is a serious game-changer who will play on Sundays. Having him in Oxford over the next couple of years will be huge.

While the stats and numbers are one thing, no one had a bigger day than Tylan Knight. It’s been said every week, but it will be said again— he only moved to the defensive side of the ball a few games into this season and was immediately thrown into the starting line up. No. 4 played his guts out. Literally.

Knight was all over the field and forced the team’s second turnover of the day.

And then, late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line, he stuck with Indiana’s top receiver and locked him down to secure the victory.

Give Tylan Knight a helmet sticker.

Other top performers included Sam Williams, MoMo Sanogo and Jalen Jordan. Williams is the only legitimate defensive lineman on the field and draws most of the blocking schemes his way. As a result, he doesn’t get in on the action as often, but he creates disorder up front that allows the guys around him to make a difference. With another year under his belt and better athletes around him, Williams is going to be a freak.

Defensive line coach Deke Adams was let go before the game and grad assistant Marquise Watson took over for the bowl game. It should be a permanent hire.

The Birthday Boy.

John Rhys Plumlee turned 19 on Saturday and had himself a day. After Elijah Moore opted out and Braylon Sanders could not play due to injury, No. 10 moved from the quarterback room to the wide receiver room on Tuesday. He lined up in the slot and struggled to find a groove in the first half, but his final drive performance was crucial to leaving Tampa Bay with a victory.

Plumlee finished with 73 yards on five catches, good for the second-most yardage on the team. Jeff Lebby and Kiffin said he had to work most on catching the ball in traffic, but he seemed to have it figured out. He made a tough catch over the middle on on a key third down that isn’t easy for an established slot receiver, let alone a quarterback. The birthday boy blew a kiss after hopping up from being hit and followed it up with a massive 44-yard catch-and-run on the next play.

Kiffin addressed his afternoon in the postgame press conference and had nothing but praise for one of his favorite guys.

“We were down to four scholarship receivers. The third down play (Plumlee caught) was awesome,” he said. “You just can’t do that. This isn’t Pop Warner. You can’t just go in and play receiver and make plays...this is really special.”

It will be interesting to see whether Plumlee makes the move to the slot full-time with Sanders returning next season and seemingly very little interest. However, with Luke Altmeyer coming in to backup Corral at quarterback, it couldn’t make any more sense. Kiffin and Lebby could use him like they did on Saturday, in a more receiver-specific role, they could use him all over the field like they did against Florida, or they could rotate him into the mix at quarterback for special packages and trick plays. It has the potential to be really fun.

Should he slide out to the receiver spot, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that Plumlee could establish himself as one of the best at his position and create a legitimate path to the NFL. He’s that much of an athlete. Give him a helmet sticker.

Matt Corral is a dude.

After throwing five interceptions against LSU, Corral did what he had to do. No. 2 completed 30-of-44 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns with an additional 42 yards on the ground. He earn the game’s MVP honors and did so while fighting through cramps without nearly 80 percent of the team’s receiving production from the regular season.

Corral didn’t force the ball into any tight windows, stayed patient in the pocket and took what the defense gave him. The maturity from a quarterback who is only a sophomore is outstanding and he is impressive in the ability to bounce back from his mistakes. When the coverage gives him a cushion, he drops a ball into the outstretched arms of his receiver.

When the defense is playing tight on his first choice, he throws his receiver open with a dart between two crashing corner backs. The arm strength is unmatched.

When the offense runs a counter on 4th-and-1, he gets out in front and throws a TOUGH lead block on a much bigger defensive end. He back down from no one and plays at full speed through all four quarters. All gas, no breaks.

He’s a real one.

Long live Matty Ice. Give him a helmet sticker.

Special teams celebration.

Luke Logan began the day 2-for-2 and then proceeded to have a field goal blocked, missed from 29 yards and shanked a potential game-deciding extra point attempt. The seven squandered points didn’t end up mattering, thank goodness. Now Logan and Rebel fans alike can celebrate the new era at kicker. Five-star Caden Costa and 4.5-star Land Gebhart will battle it out for the spot next year.

On the other side of the kicking duo, we lose one of the greats in Mac Brown and we must celebrate the career he had. He averaged more than 46 yards per kick on 27 kicks with a long of 59 and deserves a chance to play in the NFL. When Brown isn’t booming deep balls, he places them where he wants. He did just that on Saturday.

Can’t wait to rock a punter jersey on Sundays. Give him a helmet sticker.

Outback Bowl champion Ole Miss Foootball, say it like you mean it.

Ever since the Sugar Bowl, it has been a really brutal stretch for Ole Miss.

The Kiffin era is different.

Give them all a helmet sticker.