On Saturday night, Ole Miss’s Lane Kiffin coached a game at Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium for the first time his infamous departure following the 2009 season, when he unceremoniously jumped ship for USC and sparked riots on campus. The fervent stadium full of Vols fans, finally given their bloodletting game after a dozen years, was treated to an agonizing loss that pushed them over the edge and prompted them to unleash a salvo of projectiles at the Rebels sideline. Somehow, Kiffin seemed to have a pretty chill time.
Heisman frontrunner Matt Corral helped the Rebels out to a 15-point second-quarter lead, though his team’s porous defense allowed Tennessee to come back and earn a pair of pristine chances to win in the fourth quarter. Fans had spent the game viciously booing the Ole Miss sideline whenever a player stymied Vols momentum by going down with an injury, which Kiffin’s team has caught flak for all year. All the tension came to a head with 54 seconds left in the game, as officials determined that Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren came up just short on a fourth-and-24 play. A lengthy video replay review confirmed the ruling, which sent Tennessee fans into a frenzy:
The game was stopped for 20 minutes as fans showered the field with all manner of objects. Several Ole Miss cheerleaders were hit and Kiffin even got pelted with a yellow golf ball. The Rebels took refuge in the middle of the field as order was gradually restored.
“There were a number of bottles with some brown stuff in them,” Kiffin said after the game. “I’m not sure what it was. It probably wasn’t moonshine. They probably wouldn’t waste moonshine on me.”
Ole Miss was forced to punt 27 seconds later, and Tennessee flew up the field, but QB Joe Milton III came up eight yards short on the final play of the game. A victorious Kiffin drew more fire as he was escorted out of the stadium, and he made the best catch of the night on his way, tossing his visor back as a souvenir:
Kiffin, who was remarkably chill before the game, took the whole evening in stride. He said that he never asked for the game to be delayed, which can only happen if both teams approve.
“I just wanted to make sure our coaches and everybody on our sideline who didn’t have helmets were safe,” Kiffin said. “The players have helmets. My thing was, ‘Let’s finish this and get out of here.” He added, “They’re passionate fans. People came to see a show and it didn’t end the way they wanted it to. It is what it is.”
Kiffin also cracked a few jokes about the golf ball, saying, “At least whoever threw it was smart enough to throw a dirty range ball.”
SEC and Tennessee personnel decried the throwing of objects, with Tennessee AD Danny White praising the fans through the first 59 minutes of the game while tsk-tsking them for their “unacceptable” actions in the final minute, as if they sprang from something other than the first 59 minutes of the game. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said his office would review conference policies about levying penalties over such fan reactions “to make certain this situation is not repeated.”
Kiffin got the last laugh, joking, “I got a few No. 1 signs, too, but they were the No. 1 signs with the middle finger,” and greeting fans this morning with a post from Picture Quotes dot com.