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Starting 11: Chaos in Knoxville edition

Beginning 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.

It happens at sporting events across the nation. It even happened at the Tennessee-Ole Miss basketball match a few years back.

So let’s not pretend what a handful of people inside a 102,000 seat stadium did is somehow a sign of the apocalypse. Tennessee should be fined by the SEC for their fan behaviour and they need to get on with it quickly. This is at best a 24-hour story. A new headline will dominate the media by the time today’s NFL games have ended.

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.

It will happen, it is inevitable.

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The new outrage takes control of 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. Sports are no different. It is rare for stories to last over 24 hours. Not if the story happens on a weekend when there are 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. This was where the anger began.

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

This play set the stage for the reactions 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. It appears that he was planning to throw on fourth down and then shorten the Vol defense by faking the play. 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.

The play went on as before, but there was no whistle. This was a clear pass. Officials even exercised by running alongside Tennessee’s player until they reached the goal line. After the touchdown was rewarded, the scoreboards had to be changed. The Vol special team unit came out and kicked an additional point. Then after several minutes of discussion the officials decided Corral’s forward progress had been stopped and said the play was over. They made up an opinion on the spot, but had no supporting evidence. And that play isn’t reviewable.

Tennessee scored seven points thanks to an officiating error that was not explained to the Neyland Stadium crowd.

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.

Look at how the official who spotted it ended up positioning 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 won, the crowd would have flooded the field. People would talk for years about the great night and the amazing fans. The Vols lost, so emotions boiled over in an unfavorable 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.

My opinion is that the fan behavior was wrong. There was the combination of the touchdown call that wasn’t called, injuries for Ole Miss football players, and the bang bang spotting. Incompetence in officiating can cause fan anger, which then leads to the explosive situation in Knoxville that occurred Saturday night. This was all due to officiating anger.

Tennessee should face a fine and if it is believed that this type of problem will occur again, the league should establish policies with clear punishments in the future for fan behavior. However, this story will end in less than 24 hours. It may even be over. 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.

Oct 16, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Josh Heupel (facing camera) and Mississippi Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin meet at mid field after a game at Neyland Stadium.

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.

While officiating mistakes can be frustrating, I try to focus my life on what I control and not on what other people control. Most people out there tend to focus on what they can’t control and obsess over what other people do. Only you are in control of your own life. Why not strive to become the best version possible of yourself in all aspects of life, sport included?

To put that into perspective, Tennessee committed many unforced mistakes in the game which cost them their loss. Ole Miss was awarded seven points because Tennessee misplaced their first punt. Hendon Hooker didn’t go out of bounds on third down when he was tackled, running, right on the sideline. You can’t run a clock so late in the game and be that close to your sideline. How are you supposed not to go out of control? While most have already missed the decision, Tennessee will still have thirty seconds on Tennessee’s 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. You get the idea. 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.

My personal wish is that the person who was throwing the ball would have been a back-up quarterback for Tennessee. He has a howitzer. Good aim too. He had to throw it fifty yards along 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.

Kiffin deserves credit for his humor. Kiffin was then asked what was left of the game. He replied, “Bottles filled up 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.

Although much will be focused on the chaotic ending of Saturday’s game, Matt Corral proved to be an unstoppable force on Saturday. He carried the ball for 30 times and gained 195 yards. He was able to do it thirty times. Corral was undoubtedly the greatest player on the court. Corral looked as a top-ten pick in the draft at quarterback, and also was the most athletic player on either side of the field.

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.

In the second half, only seven points were allowed by the Vol defense. The Ole Miss defense held strong against four Vol drives that could have given Tennessee the lead in the second half.

Final verdict: It was an amazing game that took place on Saturday in Tennessee.

Neyland Stadium felt like a new stadium for the first times in many years. Let’s not let a few drunk bozos distract from that.

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

1. Georgia undoubtedly has the best national team.

Kentucky didn’t have a chance at winning the game. Mark Stoops, who was actually losing by 23 points to Kentucky by the end of the game, took the 11 minutes to finish the drive and made the 17 point margin.

Georgia now has two weeks to prepare for an injured Florida team after the Gator defeat against LSU. 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.

The Bulldogs are likely to be guaranteed a playoff spot regardless of what happens in this year’s SEC championship game.

2. Iowa isn’t a playoff-contending team.

Iowa State defensive end Will McDonald (9) sacks Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Ames, Iowa.

They finally lost against Purdue because of the lackluster Hawkeye offense

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

Purdue nearly doubled up Iowa in total yardage and while Iowa didn’t look like a team capable of winning the Big Ten title. And, in fact, Wisconsin even managed to defeat in Madison in just two weekends.

Iowa could be among the 15 worst states by Halloween.

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They don’t qualify for the playoffs.

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

What would happen to Alabama if it lost to Georgia in SEC Title Game? This is the question that might be the most fascinating for Alabama. We all know that a 12-1, SEC champion Alabama team will be playing in the playoffs, possibly as the number one seed.

What about 11-2 Alabama, even with Georgia’s loss?

As you look around the college football landscape right now, there’s a strong argument there aren’t going to be four great resumes. Both the SEC and Big Ten champions are in the playoffs, barring any major messes. Although the Big 12 seems to be moving towards one team, who’s the fourth? Oregon? Cincinnati? Alabama 11-2

The fourth place may prove to be quite a challenge.

4. When the polls are released today, Cincinnati will likely be number 2.

Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford (24) carries the ball as he breaks a tackle against UCF linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste, right, during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Are the Bearcats a legitimate college football playoff candidate?

What happens when undefeated Cincinnati meets 11-2 Alabama? Even more so when Vegas makes Alabama the two-tower favorite over Cincinnati

Let’s put it another way: Who would Georgia rather play against if Georgia was the number one seed for the Bulldogs? Alabama or Cincinnati

That’s no contest right?

This committee could make some very interesting decisions.

5. Oklahoma State and Oklahoma could be heading for at least two more games this season.

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

The Cowboys are at Iowa State and Kansas as well as West Virginia, Kansas, TCU at Texas Tech and Oklahoma to complete 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. It’s possible that the first game will not matter 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 has been named the national coach for Michigan State so far in 2008.

The Spartans have a record of 7-0. They also exceeded their entire year’s win expectations. The Spartans are now tied with Michigan, Purdue, Maryland and Ohio State.

Yes, that’s a brutal closing run, but nine wins feels very doable. If Michigan State were to beat Ohio State or Penn State in the final round, it would be something extraordinary.

7. What’s up with Florida?

FILE - Florida head coach Dan Mullen walks on the field before the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Virginia in Miami Gardens, Fla., in this Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, file photo. 

It is a strange choice that Dan Mullen made about Anthony Richardson. Richardson has been sitting on the bench throughout the whole SEC season. It makes no sense. Richardson was immediately able to score four touchdowns, despite the Gators being down by two points on the road. 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.

In their eight last games against FBS power-five opponents, the Gators have gone 2-6. The two victories were against Vanderbilt and Tennessee.

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

This would mean that the Gators are now at 8-4 for the season.

Given how beautiful Georgia right now, it’d be a weak 8-4.

8. Orgeron was able to win a major victory and is now on a track to keeping his job.

LSU to Keep Coach O.

I think Orgeron needs to go, at worst, 2-2 now against Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&M. LSU would have finished 7-5 with Orgeron as his coach. You can fire a coach two years after he won a national championship and was 5-5 last season to make LSU 12-10 in the aftermath of the disaster years.

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

Are 2-2 possible in these four scenarios? 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.

What is the result? The result? They can’t write columns about Tennessee for me better than I can. They will be fumbling on the couch clutching their pearls, as you can see from their vantage point at Neyland Stadium last evening. 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. They are so bitter about my success.

You are currently reading this column.

Hey, boys!

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. The new beach house, which is located on 30A, has an elevator, two pools (one on the roof, and one below). I know some people think rich people don’t have tough choices to make, but Biggie was right, Mo Money Mo Problems. In my current life, I must make tough decisions. For instance, I couldn’t decide whether I liked Rosemary Beach or Alys Beach better.

Also, I am able to place myself in every one of them 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. This was a difficult decision that I was sweating bullets about. So I made a compromise and placed one of them on the roof, and another one on 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.

An early preview of the Outkick Bus Tour. We are heading to Florida-Georgia this Halloween Weekend and then back to Tuscaloosa to attend LSU-Alabama.

Fox Nation’s new SEC football documentary debuts Friday. You guys are sure to love it.

FoxNews.com

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