Vols

Tennessee defensive back Alontae Taylor (2) tries to tackle Mississippi wide receiver Dontario Drummond during the first half.

KNOXVILLE – For the first time since 2017, Neyland Stadium was packed out at its 102,455 capacity and there was a buzz that has been sorely missing for years on Rocky Top.

With an over-under at 82 points prior to kickoff, fireworks were expected and that is exactly what happened as the #13-ranked Ole Miss Rebels downed Tennessee 31-26 in a contest that came down to the very last play. The Rebels ran a mind-boggling 101 total offensive plays and finished with 510 total yards. Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral is in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy this year and it’s easy to see why as the junior quarterback accounted for 426 of the Rebels’ 510 yards, throwing for 232 yards and two touchdowns and rushing 30 times for 195 yards. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was also on target as he finished the game with 233 yards through the air and 108 rushing yards on 23 carries. He single-handedly amassed 341 of Tennessee’s 442 yards.

Disaster struck right off the bat for the Vols as Velus Jones Jr. muffed a punt and the Rebels fell on it at the Tennessee 11. Snoop Conner put the Rebels up first with a short touchdown run. Tennessee’s first points was produced by the defense as Omari Thomas brought Corral down with a sack as he was trying to get the ball out of the end zone and he was flagged for intentional grounding which resulted in a safety to make the score 7-2. UT got the ball on the free kick and produced another score on the drive as Hooker found Cedric Tillman for the touchdown to give the home team a 9-7 lead.

After Caden Costa booted through a 30-yard field goal for the Rebels, Ole Miss produced the next two scores as Corral fired a dart to Dannis Jackson for a 33-yard touchdown and later, Conner scored from the one to make it 24-9. Tennessee got one last crack at it and delivered as Jones caught a 31-yard pass from Hooker at the Ole Miss 21 yard line. Tennessee was able to run the field goal team on the field and after Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin called three straight timeouts to try to ice kicker Chase McGrath, the USC-transfer didn’t let it phase him as he split the uprights on the last play of the first half to make it 24-12 at the break.

The Ole Miss offense has a knack of putting up a lot of plays and they did just that in the first two quarters as they snapped the ball 60 times. The Rebels’ defense was the story of the first half as they held the Vols’ high-powered offense to only 141 yards on 31 plays.

Half number two saw Tennessee get the ball and they tacked on seven points to go with the final three of the first half when Jones picked up 29 yards to the Ole Miss one and Jabari Small scored on the next play as the Vols narrowed the gap to five points at 24-19. The only other score of the third quarter was produced by Mississippi as Corral found Dontario Drummond across the middle for a 16-yard touchdown. The teams went to the final quarter with the score at 31-19.

Only a minute and a half into the final frame, the Vols struck again as Hooker walked untouched into the end zone to once again narrow the gap to five points on a perfect read on the screen option by the Virginia Tech transfer. The defense came up big later in the quarter as Trevon Flowers picked off Corral on a diving grab, the first time the Ole Miss single-caller had thrown an interception all season long. The offense couldn’t get anything going on the ensuing drive, however, and Tennessee had to punt.

The final four and a half minutes was a wild affair. Corral got hurt and freshman Luke Altmyer had to come into the game for Ole Miss facing a third-and-nine at the UT 48. He had an incomplete pass that forced a punt and Tennessee took over on their own 10 yard line. Hooker had an incredible nine-yard run on what looked like a sure sack by the Rebels’ defense. The Vols pushed the ball to the 50 but then the drive stalled with a sack and penalty. Facing a fourth-and-24, Hooker zipped a pass to Jacob Warren who lunged forward for what looked to be a first down to keep the drive going. The ball was spotted one yard short and after a booth review, the play stood and Ole Miss took over on downs.

Then an ugly scene took place. Fans incensed with the spot started throwing items onto the field which included a golf ball that landed near Kiffin. Security personnel stopped the game for several minutes and pushed the student section behind the Ole Miss bench further up into the stadium. Once play resumed, the Vols forced a punt after taking three time outs. Jones got a 40-yard return on the kick to set the Vols up in business at the Ole Miss 27 yard with 27 seconds left.

Hooker picked up 14 yards to get deeper into Rebels territory but was hurt on the play. Joe Milton came into the game and hit Walker Merrill for a 12-yard gain. After an incomplete pass, the Vols had one last crack at a win with three seconds left but Milton was pushed out of bounds on a run at the eight yard line as time expired to give the Oxford visitors a 31-26 win.

Tennessee travels to #5-ranked Alabama next week.

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