Oh, What a Night! A Look Back at the Rebels’ 31-26 Win over the Vols
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss (5-1, 2-1 SEC) left Knoxville with a 31-26 win over Tennessee (4-3, 2-2 SEC) Saturday at Neyland Stadium in front of a raucous crowd of 102,455.
The Rebels’ defense came to play, only allowing 24 points (two came in form of a safety) against the Volunteers after allowing 51 against Arkansas just a week ago. Heisman Trophy candidate QB Matt Corral came to play, too, seemingly willing his team to victory, time and time again.
As a unit, the Ole Miss defense responded well after a lackluster game last week versus Arkansas, amassing 10 tackles for loss and 5 sacks while keeping consistent pressure on Vols’ QB Hendon Hooker for most of the game.
“A lot of stuff went wrong in the first quarter,” said head coach Lane Kiffin after the game. “Luckily we played really good defense to keep us hanging around.”
The top performer for the Rebels defensively was Mark Robinson, who stacked up 14 total tackles, 5 of them for loss, and two sacks.
Mark Robinson in the backfield for Ole Miss's fourth sack of the game pic.twitter.com/u2AcCAuU46
— TJ (@TJOxley1) October 17, 2021
Another key contributor was Jake Springer who returned to the field for the first time since playing in the season opener against Louisville. In the game against Tennessee, Springer notched 11 tackles, 1 for loss, and one sack.
Welcome Back Jake Springer pic.twitter.com/spVctdJyxE
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) October 17, 2021
“We should have done better (on offense) when we got the ball back there with a minute left to win the game,” Kiffin noted.
“We put our defense in a rough situation and the punt return. Our defense really won the game twice, so it was awesome to see. We really needed that.”
Coach Lane Kiffin on the Rebels’ defense
One way or another
Corral once again showed why he is one of — if not the — best quarterbacks in college football. The Ventura, California native finished the game as the Ole Miss’ leading rusher with 195 yards on 30 carries. He completed 21-of-38 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception, his first of the year.
Coach Kiffin was understandably impressed with Corral’s performance.
“The quarterback (Matt Corral), I don’t know what you say about him. He doesn’t have his left guard (Caleb Warren), he doesn’t have two of his top three receivers (Jonathan Mingo and Braylon Sanders), doesn’t have the tight end (Chase Rogers), he’s out. The guy ended up with sacks carrying the ball 30 times. That was not by design. Some of the quarterback draws, his big play, were obviously by design because of their coverages. You can’t say enough, for a guy to do that and on the road and put the game on his shoulders.”
Lane Kiffin on Matt Corral
Corral’s 32-yard run in the fourth quarter proved to be a game-changing play, as he carried the ball into Tennessee territory and then two plays later found Dontario Drummond for a 16-yard touchdown pass that gave the Rebels a 31-19 lead.
Corral up the middle for 32.
Now up to 169 rushing yards pic.twitter.com/LQCD3hhbkr
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) October 17, 2021
Corral talked about the ever-present decision to slide or put his head down and bulldoze forward and take some hits to get the extra yards.
“I tell myself that all the time, to get down.” Corral said.
“It just seems like every time I run the ball, we have to have it as a team. I just go into fight or flight, and it is what it is. My O-line did a great job up front, running backs too.”
Matt Corral on sliding vs. taking a hit
Senior punter Mac Brown punted four times in the game and put three of his four attempts inside the 20-yard line. The Eden Prairie, Minnesota native averaged 44.8 yards per punt in the game.
Never a dull moment
For the second week in a row, the Ole Miss defense was on the field to end the game, stopping their opponent’s chance to win on the very last play of the game.
“This is a lot better feeling defensively than a week ago.” Kiffin said.
“A week ago, we made the one two-point play stop. In this one we stopped them a number of times, including a fourth down stop. We just make it dramatic. I think it was 4th and 24 and they made 23 and three-quarters so I guess that’s the story of our life, it doesn’t go real easy.”
Lane Kiffin on the Ole Miss defense
Linebacker Robinson was asked after the game what kind of confidence it gives the defense to, in back-to-back weeks, be able make a play to win the game. “All the confidence in the world.” he began.
“Believing in the work we are putting in. Believing in our standards. Believing in our work ethic and keep practicing every day to get better. Nobody really gave our defense a chance, and we knew that. We just had to depend on each other; we’re all we got and we’re all we need, that’s just how we play ball.”
LB Mark Robinson on the Rebels’ confidence
Rocky Top Pandemonium
Lane Kiffin told his team all week to expect a crazy environment in Knoxville. “Awesome to win a game in that environment.” Kiffin said after the game. “I told the guys all week ‘Hey this place in going to be electric’ as soon as we heard it was going to be a sellout, 102,000. I remember what it was like when we were here and the South Carolina game with the energy. We knew we were going to have to weather a storm early of energy and emotion.”
Boy, was Coach Kiffin right.
Following a 23-yard pass from Hendon Hooker to tight end Jacob Warren that left the Vols one yard short of a first down, the referees reviewed the spot of the ball and affirmed the call on the field would stand.
But good Ol’ Rocky Top disagreed.
Many in the Tennessee crowd lost all control and came unhinged. The Orange and White faithful began throwing objects towards the field, the Ole Miss sideline, and even at Lane Kiffin who got hit by a golf ball.
MAYHEM AT ROCKY TOP 😱
Tennessee fans throwing trash on the field…
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) October 17, 2021
The game went into a delay as the Ole Miss players would move away from their sideline onto to field to stay out of harm’s way.
Much like the weather delay the Rebs dealt with versus Tulane earlier this season, it was important for Ole Miss to stay focused during the delay against the Vols.
After the game Matt Corral spoke about how he took it upon himself to keep his team focused amid pandemonium.
“(I was) just trying to keep the main thing the main thing.” Corral said of how he tried to keep his team focused amid the pandemonium.
“You start to hear a little chatter and talk about random stuff, that set me off. I brought them back and we just started warming up and I told them we only needed one first down. We didn’t get it, unfortunately, but our defense came and helped us out.”
Matt Corral on keeping his team focused during the delay
Lane Kiffin, with golf ball in hand, spoke on the incident in his postgame press conference. “I just wanted to (resume) play, I mean the players have helmets,” he said. “It’s the coaches who are going to get hit—like I still have my souvenir golf ball that I got hit with. I just said, ‘Let’s put the helmets on and play.’”
Perhaps Robinson summed the whole fiasco up best.
“For a moment, I started to think how it is to be a player, you know, to always have to take the high road. It’s tough when people get to do things like that (throw trash on the field) and you always have to take the high road. I just wish they had better class— but it’s alright, we came here to win a ballgame and that’s what we did.”
Mark Robinson on the mayhem at Neyland
Indeed you did! Hotty Toddy and congratulations to the Rebels!
Ole Miss hosts LSU Saturday in Vaught-Hemingway. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. (CT) for the game where former quarterback Eli Manning will see his number retired. The game will be televised on CBS.
(Feature image credit: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)