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Ole Miss beats Tennessee 31-26

The Vols can’t

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

In a battle of explosive offensive teams, Matt Corral accounted for over 400 yards of offense and led Ole Miss to a 31-26 victory over Tennessee.

Vol fans had an inkling that it was going to be a long night in the game’s first possession, as Tennessee forced a punt, Vol return man Velus Jones fumbled it and Ole Miss recovered at Tennessee’s 11-yard line. The Rebels scored five plays later.

Hendon Hooker and the Vols’ offense went three-and-out on its first drive — a microcosm of how the game would end up going for Tennessee. The Rebels didn’t do an awful lot with this drive, outside of a Corral scramble for 20-plus yards (this ended up happening A LOT), but the conclusion of this drive for Ole Miss was one of the most perplexing calls I’ve ever seen in college football.

Basically, Corral was getting sacked and his forward progress had stopped. But no referee ever blew a whistle, and one of the Vol defenders wrestled the ball away from Corral. Tyler Baron clearly understood the refs hadn’t blown the play dead, so he picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone.

But the play got reviewed, and the officials retroactively called Corral down, conveniently before he fumbled. Which means Tennessee got the ball on a turnover on downs but didn’t get the TD Baron scored.

Or, at least, that’s what I THINK happened. Lol.

I don’t like blaming officials for a game’s outcome — there are just too many plays in a game to say just one play made the difference in winning or losing — but this instance seems pretty egregious. I dunno — maybe I missed something somewhere. If anybody’s gotten an explanation about this, feel free to drop it in the comments.

Naturally, Tennessee didn’t take advantage of the turnover and ended punting.

Big picture, at least early in the game, Tennessee’s defense played pretty well. The Vols held Matt Corral and the vaunted Ole Miss offense to one touchdown on the team’s first four drives, forcing a punt, a turnover on downs and even a safety!

Maybe most concerning for Tennessee, the Vols’ offense looked out of synch most the night against a not-great Ole Miss defense, with an early injury to starting tackle Cade Mays compounding the unit’s struggles. UT had just one touchdown-scoring drive in the first half and accumulated just 140 yards offensively, while Ole Miss scored two more TDs in the second quarter and took a 24-12 lead into halftime.

The second half played closer than the first, but in the end, the Vols just couldn’t contain Matt Corral. The Vols did a good job keeping a lid on the big-play passing game, but they surrendered 200 yards rushing on 29 carries to the Ole Miss signal caller. Corral converted several third downs that extended drives for the Rebels. He ended up having 200-plus yards in the air, too and added two TDs and even his first interception on the season in the fourth quarter.

That interception came early in the fourth and set up a chance for Tennessee to take the lead. But Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel’s play calling seemed to get a bit predictable late, with the Vols seemingly running on first and second downs and then throwing once Tennessee was facing the end of a possession. UT had a couple chances to take the lead with Ole Miss leading 31-26 late and just couldn’t make it happen. The Vols even got the ball back with less than a minute remaining in the game and got the ball at midfield after a good return from Velus Jones. Hendon Hooker got hurt, and Joe Milton came in but couldn’t get Tennessee in the end zone.

LB Jeremy Banks led Tennessee with 14 tackles (eight solo). Hendon Hooker had 233 yards and one TD passing and added 108 yards and one TD rushing. Jabari Small added 92 yards and a TD on 21 carries. Cedric Tillman led Tennessee with seven catches for 84 yards and one score.

There was a delay late in the game as Vol fans got pretty fed up with the way the game turned out and started showing their displeasure. Some really poor officiating, Ole Miss players taking dives late in the game and maybe a full day of drinking and trash ended up on the field. My one take: Lane Kiffin didn’t get hit with a golf ball — let’s clear that up now.

Either way, Tennessee couldn’t get it done and now sits at 4-3 with a trip to Alabama next week.