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Indiana prepares for homecoming trip to Tampa, Outback Bowl
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COLLEGE FOOTBALL | OUTBACK BOWL

Indiana prepares for homecoming trip to Tampa, Outback Bowl

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Indiana is excited to conclude a tumultuous season with a homecoming game in Tampa, where Saturday’s Outback Bowl will take place.

The Hoosiers (6-1) haven’t played since Dec. 5 due to COVID-19 and have since missed out on a New Year’s Six game. The consolation prize for many players and coach Tom Allen is returning to Tampa or their home state of Florida when the Indiana plays Ole Miss (4-5) at 11:30 a.m. at Raymond James Stadium.

“This is a bowl game that I’ve always had circled,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “I’ve always wanted to take a team down from Indiana to the Outback Bowl.”

The state of Florida, and specifically Tampa, has special significance to Allen and a sizable portion of Indiana’s roster.

Allen got his start coaching football in Tampa as a defensive coordinator and head coach of Temple Heights Christian School from 1992-1994. In the 1995 and 1996 seasons, he coached at another local Tampa school, Armwood High School, before moving back to Indiana in 1997.

Allen later returned to Tampa in 2015, as the defensive coordinator at the University of South Florida.

“I’m the same person I was back then, just as fiery, trying to get those kids to believe in something, just like we’ve done at Indiana,” Allen said. “It all started back in Tampa, Florida… it’s pretty cool that it gets to end there this year.”

The connections Allen built when coaching in Florida paved the way for Indiana’s recruiting success in the state. The Hoosiers have 22 players on the roster from Florida, and 10 played high school football in the Tampa area.

A number of Indiana’s best players are from Tampa, including Michael Penix Jr., Whop Philyor, and Micah McFadden, among others.

McFadden, the junior linebacker and third team AP All-American, has never played at Raymond James Stadium before, but has been there a few times for Tampa Bay Buccaneers games. The game will also be the first time anyone beyond immediate family of the players will be able to watch McFadden, and the entire team, play in-person this season.

“I got close to 45 people that are going to be at the game,” McFadden said. “So, I’m going to be really excited, can’t wait to play in front of a big crowd for once this season.”

Beyond just the homecoming aspect, playing in the Outback Bowl is another significant step in the growth of the program. This is the first time in school history that for two consecutive seasons, Indiana will play in a January bowl game in Florida.

Last year, Indiana lost to Tennessee in heartbreaking fashion in the Gator Bowl, 23-22, in Jacksonville, Florida. The loss was Indiana’s fifth consecutive bowl loss, and it dropped their program bowl record to 3-9.

Allen is seeking his first bowl win as head coach at Indiana, and the program’s first since 1991.

After coming so close to snapping the losing streak a year ago, senior receiver Ty Fryfogle and Indiana have a different mindset going into the Outback Bowl.

“We’ve been reminded of that (Gator Bowl) a lot this past week, Fryfogle said. “We don’t just want to go to a bowl game, we want to win a bowl game.”

Similar to the Tampa-Indiana connections, Fryfogle and Allen share connections with Ole Miss. Allen was a defensive assistant for Ole Miss in 2012-2014 before moving back to Florida for the USF job, and Fryfogle is a Mississippi native and was recruited by Ole Miss in high school.

To beat the Rebels, Indiana is going to have to rely on its defense to limit the Ole Miss’ explosive offense, which scores just under 41 points per game.

Additionally, Indiana will have to regain its momentum and get back into playing shape after a long layoff. Their scheduled game against Purdue on Dec. 12, and the second attempt to play the game in the following weekend, were both canceled due to COVID-19 issues within both teams.

Indiana has been practicing, but the Hoosiers have not played a game in nearly a month. Their last game was on Dec. 5 at Wisconsin.

“Any time you have a delay, you’re always concerned about it,” Allen said. “We just have to adapt and find creative ways to keep our guys ready to play.”

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