To preface this article, I'd like to begin by saying I was one of the attendees of the contentious Ole Miss - Tennessee face-off that garnered national recognition. Granted, the attention wasn't due to the gameplay or... we'll call it peculiar number of injuries sustained by Mississippi's defense or the questionably poor officiating, but rather the conduct and inexcusable behavior of around 300-400 or so fans in Neyland Stadium.
That said, it's now been a few days after the fact, and I've decided on rewatching a recording of the game to try and set the record straight of the events of that night in an (hopefully, though not likely) unbiased perspective. Many in the media assumed the onslaught of debris entering the field was solely based on a 4th and 24 play where the ball was spotted unfavorably for the Vols (even though I'm in the minority of fans who believe he was short of the line to gain). No. This is much more than that. It deals with the culmination of the curse laid upon Tennessee athletics since Lane Kiffin's appearance here as head coach, specifically being indefinitely on the receiving end of historically improbable and laughably unfortunate referee decisions and downright unlucky plays, as well as the downward spiral of the football program due to complete ineptitude of former Tennessee Athletic Director regimes (well, as well as other decision makers and boosters with too much input/power). But most importantly, last Saturday - where we didn't have our best running back, lost our best lineman on our first series of the night on a play that didn't even count, were down to walk ons playing significant minutes, and battling an unprecedented number of âinjuriesâ to Ole Miss defenders during our offensive drives... Again, despite all of that, we still should have and could have come out of that game victorious. And then, with 54 seconds left, the tension boiled over and chaos ensued.
With all of that, this article will only focus on A FEW OF the questionable calls in favor of Ole Miss, but more importantly I will be documenting all of the injuries sustained to Lane Kiffin's team (as well as time left, the result of the play, and whether the player returned to the game). Without further ado, let's dive in.
9:26 - 3rd & 5 for UT at their 25-yard line
Hendon Hooker throws short right to Velus Jones slanting, clearly being tackled at least half a yard short of the 1st down. Vols attempt to run hurry up to convert the short 4th and 1 but as the ball was snapped the referees blew it dead. Some players heard the whistle, others didn't. The result was a whacky mess around the LOS, with our best lineman, Cade Mays, being injured. Nothing egregious here, but certainly the type of thing to occur to a Tennessee football team.
5:55 - 4th & 2 for Ole Miss
Tennessee strip sack on Matt Corral, the refs ran with Tyler Baron into the endzone, touchdown. Then the play was called back due to lack of forward progress? And the play is not reviewable. You're taught to play until the whistle blows in sports and Matt Corral got rewarded for not doing that.
4:20 - 1st & 10 for UT
Jabari Small 11-yard run for a UT first down. #7 (all cited jersey numbers will be in reference to Ole Miss players) went down, as part of the tackling process. Appears to be an undisclosed lower extremity injury? (Not sure.) He returned next series.
3:30 - 1st & 10 for UT
Hendon Hooker sacked for 7 yards. #1 went down and pointed to his knee. He notably kept trying to shed a block on our backup RB long after the play was over. He was, however, able to run back onside and promptly fall down. He returned next series.
6:43 - 2nd & 10 for UT
Hendon hooker run for 9 yards. #44 tackled him and goes down. Still unsure of injury sustained. He walked off maybe 30 seconds later on his own volition. Returned two plays later.
5:51 - 1st & 10 for UT
Jabari Small 1-yard run. #55 wasn't part of the tackle but found the turf. Held his stomach as he exited the field. Returned next possession.
5:20 - 3rd & 10 for UT on the Ole Miss 32-yard line
Incomplete pass. #96 went down with an apparent knee injury. He didn't touch Hendon Hooker on the attempt to get into the backfield. After the throw, he jogged a few steps before grabbing his knee on the way down. He returned next possession.
14:05 - 2nd & Goal from the 7 for UT
Hendon Hooker run for 3 yards. #96 down again. He wasn't near the tackle, but fell holding his leg again as the play was coming to a close. He left for the locker room afterwards and was the only Rebel all day to not return by the next possession.
11:35 - 1st & 10 for UT
Jabari Small run for 3 yards. Javontez Spraggins pancaked #35 who then proceeded to kick upwards twice with his right foot at Spraggins while on the ground. Somehow no referee saw it happen and nobody else was within 5 yards of them at the time.
Tennessee OL lost his helmet and seemed to fake an injury on his way to the sideline. Definitely appeared to flop his way to the ground. He returned shortly after.
9:00 - 1st & 19 for UT
Jabari Small 3-yard run up the middle. An entire 15 seconds after he was tackled, #24 looked over to the sideline and falls down holding his leg. Notably, during the play, our wide receiver nearest the cornerback ran a "phantom" 5-yard route at 50% speed. It was approximately 50 degrees in the stadium at night, if it's assumed to have been a cramp while he was standing there not doing anything. He returned next possession.
8:34 - 2nd & 16
The very next play. #33 went down. He wasn't part of the tackle, but he was in the area. Again, it appeared to have been a cramp for the 2nd straight play. He returned next possession.
5:13 - 3rd and 8 for Ole Miss at their 39-yard line.
Matt Corral sweep pass to Snoop Conner. #13 for UT is there to make the play but instead is shoved in the back straight into the ground by #6 for Ole Miss. The referee was standing less than 5 yards away with no obstruction between him and the block. Results in a crucial Rebels first down.
3:08 - 1st & 10 for UT
Hooker finds Javonte Payton for their second straight play resulting in a 1st down. #6 for Ole Miss falls down with yet another apparent lower extremity injury which appeared to be his ankle. Interestingly, they were in a zone defense the play he was hurt and he didn't have to run for the duration of the play. He had fallen down 5 or 6 seconds after the Tennessee player was tackled. Miraculously, he ultimately returned the same possession.
2:13 - 2nd & 17 for UT
The very next play. Hooker ran for 5 yards while #44 tackled him. Oddly enough, he gets hurt in the exact same way he did earlier in the game making the exact same type of tackle. He writhed in pain until he got back up shortly after and jogged himself back off the field. The play was ultimately negated by a holding penalty on Tennessee. Once again, he returned next possession.
1:03 - 4th & 24 for UT
Tennessee appears to have gained 23.5 yards. Again, I'm not in the camp that he reached the line to gain. It is unfortunate, though, for the SEC that there were somehow just 2 angles for the play to be seen, neither of which were anywhere near conclusive. My greatest gripe with the play is the tight end was clearly tackled with 57 or 58 seconds left, yet the clock ran an extra 3 seconds to :54 and time was never put back on the clock. As those of us who watched the ending, that could've very well made the difference.
Watching the game, it was blatantly obvious in which half Tennessee had more success moving the ball as they more than doubled their total yardage output in the second half compared to the first. First half injuries for Ole Miss: 2. 2nd half: 8. Only one of the injuries resulted in a player not returning to the game within the following possession. According to ESPN, Tennessee ran 49 plays in the second half, meaning every 6.1 plays resulted in an injured defensive Rebel. That's pretty anomalous considering a 15-year study run by Dr. Jennifer M. Hootman found collegiate football players get injured at a rate of one in 27.9 plays.* The math also indicates a 16.3% chance of an injured Rebel per play ran, as compared to the national average of right under 3.6%.
My prediction is that this will result in yet another rule change that just so happens to be at the forefront of a Tennessee defeat. The other notable, high-profile instance is the 10 second runoff penalties late in games, thanks to a Tennessee loss to North Carolina in the 2010 Music City Bowl. Ultimately Lane Kiffin and company are a great team that will do anything to win. And who can blame them here, as technically no rules were broken since there has still yet to be a rule requiring players to sit out for an extended amount of time after leaving with an injury. I see the arguments both ways of either forcing the player to sit the remainder of the drive or the quarter, but a change has to be made soon either way. Until then, hurry up offenses are going to be that much easier to stop.
Written by Alex Hill