The officiating was one of the most significant talking points following Tennessee’s game against Ole Miss, and, rightfully so. The calls on the field were not only inconsistent, but many were just puzzling.
After the game, one of the resonating plays went back to a reversal made by the SEC crew back in the first quarter. Tennessee was trailing Ole Miss, 7-0, as the Rebels had the ball with just under six minutes remaining in the quarter. Quarterback Matt Corral took the snap around midfield, faked a handoff to the running back, and was promptly taken to the ground by Tennessee defensive lineman Tyler Baron. Then, Baron took off down the field, scooping up a live fumble off the ground, returning it to the endzone for six points – Tennessee’s first of the night.
The live call on the field, at the moment, was a touchdown. So not only were there no whistles during the tackle made by Baron, but the two officials closest to the play both made the touchdown call.
However, after further review with another official on the field, the call was then reversed. Tennessee’s six points we’re taken off the board.
The ruling on the reversal was that Corral’s forward progress was stopped, and he was under control. Therefore, the play was dead. However, with no whistle on the field, especially from either of the two closest judges, many were left wondering what went into the decision behind the reversal.
According to Outkick’s Trey Wallace, the SEC gave an official comment on Baron’s touchdown reversal on Sunday afternoon.
“On the play you have referenced, the officials huddled after the play and determined that forward progress had been stopped; therefore there was no fumble on the play,” the SEC’s official statement read. “It is not uncommon for officials that are not certain in real-time of the status of a loose ball to let a play finish before gathering together to compare notes to correctly officiate the play.”
oh my god tyler baron scoop and score pic.twitter.com/3MQaCYHgJc
— RockyTopTalk (@RockyTopTalk) October 17, 2021
The two-sentence response from the SEC hardly referenced the play at hand. Nor did it mention either team, Tyler Baron, or Matt Corral by name. Instead, the SEC gave a mostly broad and general, plain response. At the end of the day, that was not a play that sealed the fate of Tennessee in the game, nor was it a final play of the game. Tennessee did get the ball back still, given that it was fourth down. However, it was a critical six-point reversal in what ended up being a five-point game.
After the game, Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel was asked if he was given an explanation to some of the calls, particularly Baron’s play.
“Occasionally, I did,” Heupel said in his post-game interview. “On Tyler Baron’s play, they said that forward progress had been stopped and that it was a non-reviewable play. The spot was the decision they came to, and the chains were being moved, and I didn’t get an explanation on it.”
The loss does not fall on the official’s calls alone. And the Tennessee coaches are not blaming the SEC officials, either.
“Those were two good football teams who played hard tonight,” Heupel said after the game. “Unfortunately, we got the short end of the stick. I talked to our guys in the locker room and was disappointed because I didn’t think we played smart enough in all three phases of the football game. We didn’t play smart enough to make the plays that were there for us and beat ourselves in some way. I’m not taking anything away from Ole Miss. That’s a really good football whose quarterback is a special player.”
In a game in which key players were already out, Tennessee was badly hurt by injuries. Running back Tiyon Evans did not play after dressing out in pads for warm-ups. Meanwhile, OL Cooper Mays, who has struggled with injuries throughout this season, also was absent on Tennessee’s line. But then, losing players such as OL Cade Mays, RB Jabari Small, and QB Hendon Hooker was substantial throughout the game.
“I do not know on Cade yet,” Heupel said. “He was moving around in the locker room tonight. It is really disappointing as someone who has grown up here. He said he has been to a lot of football games in this stadium and that it is the most energetic and juicy atmosphere. I am really disappointed he only got three plays. I will assume he will be ready to play for the next one.”
Tennessee will travel to take on SEC rival Alabama next week in a game where the Vols are already a massive underdog.