Ole Miss jumped out to an early lead over Tennessee and the Vols were never able to quite catch up in an exciting 31-26 Rebels win at Neyland Stadium.
Here are four quick takeaways.
Tennessee Can’t Contain Corral
Tennessee’s defense struggled with running quarterbacks Kenny Pickett and Emory Jones earlier this season. Ole Miss’ head coach Lane Kiffin decided to attack the Vols’ defense with Matt Corral’s legs and Tennessee struggled with him in a big way.
Corral tallied 200 yards on 29 carries. The extremely talented signal caller threw for just 231 yards.
In the first half, Corral recorded four third or fourth down runs to move the chains. All four runs were seven or more yards and there of the four runs were for 10 or more yards.
Ole Miss frequently drew up the quarterback draw on third downs and Tim Banks and Tennessee’s defense struggled to stop it.
Corral’s legs were a massive difference in this one, especially in the first half. Tennessee did a good job of bottling up Ole Miss’ running backs, holding the Rebels’ running backs to 52 first half rushing yards. However, the talented quarterback tallied 94 yards in the first half.
Corral added three third down runs to move the chains in the second half as the Rebels kept going back to their quarterback running game.
In a game where Tim Banks and Tennessee’s defense was stout, the quarterback run proved to be the back breaker the Vols couldn’t overcome.
Game Of Inches
I wrote all week that this game could easily be decided by a small group of plays that play a magnified role in the game. The proved true Saturday and the breaks did not go Tennessee’s way.
It started on the first drive of the game. After an Ole Miss’ holding negated a Corral fourth down scramble, the Rebels sent their punt unit on the field.
Velus Jones Jr proceeded to muff his first punt in his Tennessee career, giving the Rebels a fresh start and elite field position.
Tennessee’s defense seemed to have made a huge stand too, but a defensive holding on Trevon Flowers moved the chains on third-and-14 from the 15-yard line.
The Vols’ defense made another massive play just one drive later. On fourth-and-three at Tennessee’s 45-yard line, defensive linemen Matthew Butler and Tyler Baron blew up Corral in the backfield. The Rebels’ quarterback fumbled and Baron returned it 40 yards for the touchdown as the officials ran down the field to the end zone with him.
After a long deliberation, the officials said Corral was down due to forward progress and took the touchdown off the board. A very questionable call early in the game went against Tennessee and instead of a 7-7 tie, the Vols punted the ball back to Ole Miss down 7-0.
Then with Ole Miss leading 17-9 in the second quarter, Butler strip sacked Corral deep in Rebels’ territory. An Ole Miss offensive lineman jumped on the ball and the Rebels proceeded to go 91 yards for a touchdown.
Again, a break went against Tennessee and it led to a 10 to 14 point swing in the game.
Tennessee Double Dips Ole Miss
Ole Miss led 24-9, facing a third-and-10 at its own 32-yard line with 1:04 to play in the first half. The Rebels were in control of the game and Josh Heupel decided to gamble.
The Vols used their first timeout ahead of the third down, banking they could get off the field at a point in the game where Ole Miss was six-of-11 on third downs.
Theo Jackson made Heupel look smart, breaking up a Corral pass on a wheel route.
Velus Jones Jr. would fair catch the ball at Tennessee’s 16-yard line with 53 seconds left in the half. That’s when Hendon Hooker finally found a rhythm, leading Tennessee 62 yards on six plays. Chase McGrath would bang in a 39-yard field goal and the Vols went to the locker room down, 24-12.
The Vols got the ball to open the second half and proceeded to go on their best drive of the game to date. Tennessee went 77 yards in eight plays and 2:18. A 29-yard third down completion from Hooker to Jones set up a Jabari Small one-yard touchdown run.
With a minute left in the first half Ole Miss had triple the yards Tennessee did. By the time Matt Corral and the Rebels got the ball again, their lead had been cut from 12 to three point.
Tennessee Fails To Get Run Game Going
Tennessee running back Tiyon Evans and offensive linemen Cade and Cooper Mays missed significant time in Saturday’s game due to injury.
With those three key starters out, Tennessee’s run game struggled against a poor Ole Miss’ rush defense.
The last two weeks, Tennessee had dominated bad run defenses and that catapulted the offense to big games.
Jabari Small ran for 92 yards on 21 carries and Len’Neth Whitehead and Marcus Pierce combined for five carries for nine yards. Hooker had the most success running for Tennessee, adding 94. yards on 22 carries despite being sacked five times.
The inability to run the ball consistently kept Tennessee’s offense out of sync and made it challenging for the Vols to drive the ball.
Tennessee’s offense and three three-and-outs in the loss and five drives that netted less than 20 yards. Doing that against an explosive and dangerous Ole Miss offense made it extremely difficult for the Vols to pull off the upset.