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Starting 11: Chaos In Knoxville Edition

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Let’s start here: no one should throw anything on the field or court at any game.

But it happens all the time in sporting events all over the country. Heck it happened just a few years ago at the Tennessee-Ole Miss basketball game.

So let’s not pretend what a handful of people inside a 102,000 seat stadium did is somehow a sign of the apocalypse. The SEC should fine Tennessee athletics for the fan behavior and move on fairly quickly because this is at worst a 24 hour story. By the time the NFL games are over today there will be a new story dominating the headlines.

That’s why one of the biggest challenges in a social media era is waiting 24 hours to make a decision. Because in the middle of those 24 hours there’s a crescendo of attention that makes it feel like a story like this will never end.

And then it inevitably does.

Because the new outrage arises and takes over the national discourse. This, to a certain extent, was Donald Trump’s genius. He knew that the media isn’t capable of dealing with multiple major stories at once. He’d just toss out a new Tweet and whatever the old Tweet said was old news. The same is true in sports. There are almost no stories that last longer than 24 hours. Especially not if they happen on the weekend during football games.

The larger issue, however, is what caused a tiny pinprick of fans in the stadium to start to throw water bottles — also mustard and a golf ball — and the answer is the SEC officiating crew blew a call and took a touchdown off the board for Tennessee in the first quarter. That was the start of the fan anger.

Here’s that play if you weren’t watching live.

That play is what set the scene for the reaction in the fourth quarter.

This was a fourth down play and it seems fairly clear that Matt Corral — who played an absolute whale of a game — was faking that he had the ball after the running back dove into the pile. The plan, it appears, was for him to throw deep on fourth and short after the Vol defense bought on the play fake. It was designed to be a naked play action fake, the kind that are run only a few times a season where the quarterback stands defenseless and pretends he doesn’t have the ball. Only the Tennessee defenders didn’t bite on the play fake and tackled Corral, who dropped the ball in the process.

As you can see above, the play continued, there was no whistle, this was a clear fumble, the officials even got their cardio in by jogging alongside the Tennessee player all the way to the end zone. The scoreboards changed to reward the touchdown and the Vol special teams unit came out to kick the extra point. Then after several minutes of discussion the officials decided Corral’s forward progress had been stopped and said the play was over. That is, they made up a ruling on the spot with no evidence to support that ruling. And that play isn’t reviewable.

So seven points came off the board for Tennessee thanks to an officiating blunder that was never explained in any way to the capacity crowd in Neyland Stadium.

Couple this egregious officiating failure with the number of times Ole Miss players took what appeared to be a soccer dives to stop the momentum of the Tennessee offense in the second half — this is something that has to be addressed at the league level — and then combine it with a bang-bang play on fourth down where if Tennessee had been ruled to have gotten the first down the play would have stood, but because there was no clear video evidence to overturn the play, you couldn’t overturn it, and you can see why Tennessee fans were angry.

I mean, heck, look at the positioning on the play of the official who ended up spotting the ball.

Toss in a decade worth of trolling from Lane Kiffin, which, as a provocateur and entertainer, I respect — but others don’t like it as much, witness the premedicated redneckdom of the Vol fan who brought the golf ball to hum at Lane Kiffin — and then add in an entire day of drinking and you had a really combustible, fired up fan base ready to explode, in a good or bad way. (If the Vols had won the crowd would have stormed the field and people would have talked for decades about how awesome this night was and how great the fans were. But the Vols lost so the emotion boiled over in a negative way).

Again, no on one should ever throw anything on the field — especially not when the game wasn’t over thanks to Tennessee having three timeouts, indeed the Vols probably should have caught Joe Milton’s first pass for a touchdown on the next to last play of the game which would have set off a field storming melee — but to pretend this is some seismic issue just isn’t the case.

Why, in my opinion, did the fans behave the way they did? It was a combination of the blown call on the should have been touchdown, all the “injuries” for Ole Miss players and the bang-bang spotting issue. Lack of confidence in officiating leads to fan anger which can then lead to the combustible situation we saw on Saturday night in Knoxville. All of this came from officiating anger.

Tennessee should be fined and, if the league thinks this sort of issue is likely to occur again, there should be policies put in place with clearly delineated punishments for the future as it pertains to fan misbehavior like this. But this story will be over in 24 hours. Heck, it may be over already. What won’t be over, and still isn’t, is the lack of confidence in officiating. And that’s not an easy issue to address because it has grown over the years to the point where there are many stadiums incidents like these could happen.

Which is why my biggest takeaway from the game was how much better Tennessee is on both offense and defense in Josh Heupel’s first year as Tennessee coach. I’m still not sure how well Heupel can recruit, but his game plans have been pretty outstanding in year one. And, as we talked about last week in this column, he’s going to finish season one 6-6 at worst and should be poised to make a pretty decent leap in year two as the team learns his offense better.

And while the officiating failures are frustrating, my general focus in life is to control what you can control, not what others control. Most people out there tend to focus on what they can’t control and obsess over what other people do. The only thing you can control in life is yourself. So why not work to be the best version of yourself both in sport and in life?

With that in mind, Tennessee made plenty of unforced errors in this game that cost them the loss. For instance, Tennessee fumbled the first punt of the game and gave Ole Miss seven points there. Hendon Hooker didn’t go out of bounds on third down when he was tackled, running, right on the sideline. How do you not go out of bounds with a running clock that late in the game when you are that close to the sideline? Most have missed this decision, but if Hooker goes out of bounds there Tennessee has thirty extra seconds of time on the final possession to score. Finally, Joe Milton, inexplicably, RAN OUT OF BOUNDS TO END THE GAME, which is so insanely dumb from a football perspective, especially coming out of a timeout when everyone in the entire stadium knows there are three seconds left, that I don’t even know how that decision is possible.

Let me put it to you this way, it’s rare I say this, but if you had put me in the game to run that final play, I would have gotten the pass into the end zone with a chance to win. I mean this. You put 42 year old me into the game to run that play and I’m taking the snap, dropping back, and throwing an absolute lollipop 25 yards into the end zone to let everyone fight over it there. It probably wouldn’t get caught, but I’d at least give my team a chance to win.

Personally, I just wish whoever threw the golf ball had been in at back up quarterback for Tennessee. That guy has a howitzer. Good aim too. I mean, he had to throw that thing fifty yards on a line. It’s a long way from even the lower level stands to where Kiffin was standing. If Joe Milton hadn’t been on the field — and if the throw hadn’t been accurate — I would have put him up as the prime suspect here.

Credit to Kiffin for his sense of humor, by the way. After the game Kiffin was asked what else was thrown at him: “Bottles filled with some brown stuff. Probably wasn’t moonshine. I don’t think they’d waste moonshine on me,” he said.

That’s an all time quote.

And while much of the attention will be placed on all the chaos around the ending, Matt Corral was an absolute warrior on Saturday night. He carried the ball 30 times for 195 yards. Thirty times! Corral was by far the best player on the field. He looked like a top ten draft pick at quarterback and he also looked like the best athlete on the field for either team as well.

Even with Corral’s excellence the final stats demonstrate these two teams were pretty much evenly matched: both had 29 first downs. Ole Miss averaged 4.5 yards a rush, Tennessee 4.4, the Vols actually averaged 8.4 yards per play to Ole Miss’s 5.9 yards per play, but the Rebels had the ball, especially in the first half, for far more plays.

The Vol defense only gave up seven points in the entire second half. But credit to the Ole Miss defense which withstood four different Vol drives when Tennessee could have taken the second half lead and never did.

Ultimately, it was a fantastic game on a great Tennessee Saturday night.

And Neyland Stadium, for the first time in years, was absolutely electric. Let’s not let a few drunk bozos distract from that.

Okay’s let’s dive into the Starting 11:

1. Georgia is unquestionably the best team in the country.

Kentucky never really had a chance to win this game and Mark Stoops showed you as much by taking the final eleven minutes off the clock on one drive to make the final margin 17 points when he was losing by 23.

Given the Gator collapse against LSU, Georgia has two weeks to get ready for a wounded Florida side. But I just don’t see any real danger here, even with the rivalry game in play. After that game Georgia has Missouri, who has zero chance in this game, at Tennessee, which could be a fun game if Hendon Hooker is healthy, but the Vols don’t have the horses to win, Charleston Southern, and at Georgia Tech.

Put simply, it would be a big surprise to me if Georgia isn’t 12-0 in Atlanta.

Meaning the Bulldogs will probably have a playoff slot locked up no matter what happens in the SEC title game.

Right now FanDuel has Georgia +115 to win the title followed by Alabama at +250, Ohio State at +750, Oklahoma at 20-1, Cincinnati at 30-1, and then Oklahoma State and Michigan at 50-1.

2. Iowa isn’t a playoff contending team.

The lack of Hawkeye offense finally caught up with them on Saturday against Purdue.

This wasn’t just a loss, this was an ass kicking.

Purdue nearly doubled up Iowa in total yardage and while Iowa didn’t look like a team capable of winning the Big Ten title. Or, for that matter, even managing to beat Wisconsin in two weekends in Madison.

Iowa may well be outside the top 15 by Halloween.

They are not a legitimate playoff contender.

3. Alabama bounced back in a big way against Mississippi State and made Texas A&M look like a an aberration.

The most interesting question for Alabama might well be what happens if the Tide were to lose to Georgia in the SEC title game. Because we all know a 12-1 SEC champion Alabama team would be in the playoff, potentially as the overall number one seed.

But what about 11-2 Alabama even with a loss to Georgia.

As you look around the college football landscape right now, there’s a strong argument there aren’t going to be four great resumes. The SEC and Big Ten champs are both in the playoff barring huge messes. The Big 12 is trending towards a team, but who is the fourth team? Oregon? Cincinnati? 11-2 Alabama?

That fourth spot may be a real battle to decide.

4. Cincinnati is likely to be ranked number two when the polls come out today.

But are the Bearcats really a college football playoff contender?

And how does, say, a battle between undefeated Cincinnati and 11-2 Alabama get decided? Especially when Vegas would make Alabama a two touchdown favorite over Cincinnati?

Put it this way, who would Georgia want to play if the Bulldogs were the number one seed? Cincinnati or Alabama?

That’s no contest right?

The committee may have some interesting choices to make in this regard.

5. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State may be headed for two games in a row to finish the season.

Remember when the blue checks told you Mike Gundy’s coaching future was in danger because he wore a OAN tshirt?

Well, the Cowboys have at Iowa State, Kansas, at West Virginia, TCU, at Texas Tech, and then Oklahoma comes to town to finish the season.

It feels like there’s a decent chance Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could play in back-to-back weeks for the Big 12 title. With the first game potentially not really mattering very much at all.

And while I don’t think it’s necessarily likely either team finishes undefeated, the way the schedule is breaking down the stretch, the Big 12 champ looks to be in a decent position to make the playoff this year.

6. Mel Tucker is your national coach of the year so far at Michigan State.

The Spartans are 7-0 and have already exceeded their expected win total for the entire year. Now they finish with Michigan, at Purdue, Maryland, at Ohio State, and Penn State.

Yes, that’s a brutal closing run, but nine wins feels very doable. And if Michigan State could beat any of Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State it would be a phenomenal achievement.

7. What’s up with Florida?

The choices Dan Mullen has made regarding Anthony Richardson are incredibly strange. Why has Richardson been on the bench for the entire SEC season? It makes no sense. With the Gators down two scores on the road at LSU Mullen finally brought in Richardson, who immediately delivered four touchdowns. He’s an electric playmaker, which makes his usage so strange.

Add to that his comments after the LSU game about potentially transferring — which he later walked back — and you’ve got a real mess on your hands here.

The Gators are just 2-6 in their last eight games against power five FBS opponents and the two wins have come against Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

Dan Mullen’s Gators finish four very winnable games — and a likely loss against Georgia.

That would leave the Gators at 8-4 on the season.

But it would be a wobbly 8-4 given how good Georgia looks right now.

8. Coach Orgeron got a massive win and now has a pathway to keep his job.

Will LSU keep Coach O?

I think Orgeron needs to go, at worst, 2-2 now against Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&M. If he managed that LSU would finish 7-5. Can you fire a coach who is two years removed from a national title and finished 5-5 last year to go 12-10 over the covid disaster years?

12-10 isn’t great, but it feels like 7-5 might be enough to save Coach O. for another year.

Is 2-2 in those four doable? We’ll get a good read on that Saturday in Oxford.

9. Don’t underrate national college football writer media jealousy of me when it comes to their reaction to the Tennessee fan base.

Whether you like it or not, I’m one of the most prominent University of Tennessee fans in the country. And while most college football media — especially the writers — are struggling to stay employed and have almost no audience that will follow them anywhere, I fought and won the battle to play college football last year while most of them tried to get the season canceled, I correctly pointed out Greg Schiano would have been an awful choice for Tennessee and helped to keep his hire from happening while most college football writers acted as Schiano’s PR agents — note how quiet they’ve all gone over Rutgers being the worst team in the Big Ten this year — and I’ve also gotten fabulously wealthy while writing and talking about college football.

The result? These factors have created an intense level of jealously of me out there among the legion of the sports writing miserable brigade, the coronabros like Wolken, Thamel, Forde, your usual denizens of gridiron despair. I can write their anti-Tennessee columns for them better than they can write their own columns. And you can bet they will fall on their fainting couches clutching their pearls over Neyland Stadium last night. They want to label Tennessee fans as awful because it gives them a chance to attack me — and my fanbase, you guys, who they hate because many of you guys voted for Trump. That’s the subtext here. That’s what’s really going on when these writers demand massive punishment for (mostly) water bottles getting tossed on the field at Tennessee games and have ignored it happening elsewhere for years.

I’d encourage Tennessee fans to ignore them, or mock them on social media, they have no actual juice with anyone with a functional brain and deep down they know it. Which is why they resent my success so much.

And are reading this column right now.

Hi, guys!

Just to prove I’m a nice guy, I’m going to extend an olive branch to all of you. If y’all agree to triple mask and wear haz mat suits I’ll invite you one day to the new beach house we’re building on 30A. Everyone knows I hate to brag or draw attention to myself, but the new beach house has an elevator and two pools, one on the roof and one on the ground. I know some people think rich people don’t have tough choices to make, but Biggie was right, Mo Money Mo Problems. I have to make some really tough choices now in my life. For instance, I couldn’t decide whether I liked Rosemary Beach or Alys Beach better.

So I have a place in each now.

Plus, you guys don’t know how much of a struggle it was to decide whether to put an infinity pool at ground level or an infinity pool on the roof in my new beach house. I mean, I was sweating bullets over this choice. Which is why I was so happy to compromise and put one on the roof and one on the ground.

See, I’m just like all of you, grinding away, making the tough call, continuing to be the most humble guy I know.

10. My Outkick national top ten

1. Georgia
2. Alabama
3. Michigan State
4. Michigan
5. Oklahoma State
6. Oklahoma
7. Oregon
8. Ohio State
9. Ole Miss
10. Penn State

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

1. Georgia
2. Alabama
3. Ole Miss
4. Kentucky
5. Texas A&M
6. Auburn
7. Arkansas
8. LSU
9. Florida
10. Tennessee
11. Mississippi State
12. Missouri
13. South Carolina
14. Vanderbilt

Hope y’all have great Sundays.

Early preview on the Outkick bus tour, we are headed to Florida-Georgia on Halloween weekend and back down to Tuscaloosa for LSU-Alabama.

Also, our new SEC football documentary will debut Friday on Fox Nation. I think you guys will love it.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.

2 Comments

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  1. That UT game was one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. So many dumb calls, the laughable number of fake Ole Miss injury timeouts, the horrific spot on the 4th down play at the end where a ref 40 yards away spots the ball, the stupid color commentary by Rodgers throughout (he’s completely awful but cashing in as Aaron’s bro), the fans trashing the field with the game still on the line like morons, culminating in Milton’s mind-numbing decision to tuck it and run out of bounds with no time left rather than throw a pass into the end zone to win it. Weirdest game I’ve ever seen. It would be a great episode of the Twilight Zone.

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