OXFORD, Mississippi — The temperature was not 102 degrees Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, which was largely empty last week for a lackluster win over Tulsa partly because of that reason. And Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin compared his stadium to a high school field.
It was a pleasant 60 degrees or so through much of the No. 14 Rebels’ 22-19 win over No. 7 Kentucky Saturday. But it was as hot as a Delta juke joint on 50 cent draft night in the stands. And these were young men in coats – frat boys.
“This fight was over whose dad has a bigger boat,” tweeted @JakeCrain expertly.
It’s hard getting in a good swing under those form fitting blazers. No matter this appeared to be Ole Miss vs. Ole Miss. It made for the kind of atmosphere Kiffin craves. And apparently, former No. 7 Kentucky is going to need a bigger boat.
“I wasn’t as excited about that (NIL announcement by Ole Miss Friday) as I was about the stadium and the walk before the game,” Kiffin said. “Who knows? Did they false start at the end because of the crowd? That was awesome to see.”
Especially after last week when Ole Miss-Tulsa looked like a mid-major spring game.
In between Frat Night at the Fights, the sellout crowd of 64,828 on this day made an incredible amount of noise concerning the main event on the field.
Kentucky, trailing 22-19, was driving for the go-ahead points in the final minutes and converted a huge 3rd-and-6 play. Quarterback Will Levis threw over the middle to tight end Jordan Dingle for 14 yards to the Ole Miss 27. But on the next play, left guard Jager Burton had the false start.
Three plays later, Ole Miss’ defense – with its back to the raucous student section – made the play of the game, at the time. On 3rd-and-2 at the Rebels’ 19-yard line, Levis got the first down, but linebacker Austin Keys nailed him. He fumbled, and safety A.J. Finley recovered with 2:55 to go.
Everybody stopped fighting, and the place went bonkers.
“What a wild crowd,” said Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart, who is not from these parts. He didn’t hear this type stuff while growing up in Kaysville, Utah, or while playing last year at USC.
“Personally, I’ve never been in front of a crowd or experienced anything like this,” he said. “I’ll always remember it. This stuff is addicting.”
And he still has not experienced Alabama at Ole Miss, which will be on Nov. 12, not to mention the Egg Bowl vs. Mississippi State on Nov. 24 here.
Dart, who completed 15 of 29 passes for 213 yards while rushing eight times for 40 yards, did not notice the fights in the frat section. He was too busy watching his defense save the game by shutting out the Wildcats in the fourth quarter through three trips into Ole Miss territory.
“I was going pretty hard on my nails,” Dart said after leading his team to only three points in the second half after the Rebels led 19-12 at the break. “I was bitin’ my nails, yeah.”
When told of the sideshow, he exclaimed, “There were fights? What was it like? I guess people are just really passionate here. Hope nobody got hurt. It was just an awesome crowd.”
But he wasn’t done with his cuticles, and the Ole Miss crowd still had some impact to make.
Kentucky had one more chance, and Levis found wide receiver Bavion Brown for 51 yards to the Ole Miss 7-yard line with about a minute to go. But on 1st-and-goal, the Wildcats were possibly distracted again and found guilty of illegal motion. On the next play, Ole Miss defensive end Jared Ivey hit Levis in the arm as he was about to throw. He fumbled, and defensive end Tavius Robinson recovered with 51 seconds left. This time, it was over.
Who knows? Did they motion illegally because of the crowd? Ole Miss was not living on Tulsa sound this week.
“I reached out, and the ball was right there,” Ivey said. “He basically put the ball right in my hand. Right after Tavius scooped it, I have no idea what happened. I never played in anything similar to this atmosphere probably since high school against Colquitt County.”
Ivey played in the Atlanta area for North Gwinnett High, which had Colquitt as a rival, before he went to Georgia Tech. Apparently, that’s not the type high school game Kiffin was speaking of last week.
“It was an unbelievable environment today,” Ivey said. “Adrenaline was high.”
Kiffin felt it, saw it, heard it.
“They thought the game was over the first time (after Levis’ first fumble),” Kiffin said. “And they did it again, which was huge.”
And Ole Miss is 5-0 for the first time since 1962 when it went 10-0 and won a national championship, excluding the 5-0 start that became 7-0 in 2014,because those wins were erased by the NCAA for various major rules violations.
“The limit is like untouchable for us,” Dart said. “We can be so good.”
Kiffin’s not buying that quite yet. After Vanderbilt and Auburn, Ole Miss goes to LSU and to Texas A&M and visits Arkansas on Nov. 19 after Alabama.
“We don’t all of a sudden have everything figured out because we made a play at the end,” he said. “But I’m excited to get back to it. I knew Kentucky would play hard. We played harder.”
Obviously, Ole Miss has some fight to it.