UT chancellor 'sickened' by behavior of Vols fans in loss to Ole Miss

AP photo by Wade Payne / Ole Miss running back Snoop Conner, bottom, scores a touchdown as he's hit by Tennessee defensive linemen Da'Jon Terry (95) and Ja'Quain Blakely during the first half of Saturday night's game in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE - It's not every Tennessee football game that is followed by a statement from the university chancellor.

The Volunteers' 31-26 loss to No. 13 Ole Miss inside Neyland Stadium on Saturday night was anything but normal.

After officials ruled with 54 seconds remaining that a fourth-and-24 pass from Tennessee's Hendon Hooker to tight end Jacob Warren traveled only 23 yards to the 41-yard line of the Rebels, Vols fans began throwing debris on the field. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, a lightning rod for Vols fans since leaving Tennessee after one season in 2009 for his dream job at Southern California, had a golf ball thrown at him.

The game was delayed for 20 minutes before resuming.

"I am astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans at the end of tonight's game," Donde Plowman said early Sunday morning through a released statement. "Good sportsmanship must be part of who we are as Volunteers. Behavior that puts student athletes, coaches, visitors and other fans at risk is not something we will tolerate."

Tennessee (4-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) has experienced a rapid rise in Josh Heupel's first season as coach, and the Vols hoped to add to it with an upset of the Rebels (5-1, 2-1), who had not won in Neyland since 1983. Rebels redshirt junior quarterback Matt Corral was the most heralded player on the field and showed why, completing 21 of 38 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns and rushing 30 times for 195 yards.

Corral did throw his first interception of the season, with Trevon Flowers accounting for that.

"We needed to do a better job of containing their quarterback," Flowers said, "who's a really good quarterback, by the way."

photo AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee's Chase McGrath (40) kicks a 39-yard field goal at the end of the first half of Saturday night's game against Ole Miss in Knoxville.

A sellout crowd of 102,455 watched the mayhem that encompassed a contest that took four hours and 33 minutes to complete. It was Tennessee's first sellout since 2017, and Heupel did not want the actions of a few to tarnish the entire environment.

"I want to acknowledge the few fans and what transpired at the end," Heupel said as he opened his news conference. "I'm disappointed in the way the game ended with some of the things being thrown from the crowd. For the most part of the football game - what an unbelievable atmosphere to see Vol Nation show out the way they did."

When Flowers was asked about the 20-minute delay, he said: "I was still locked in. There was time on the clock. We only can control what we can control."

Tennessee receiver Cedric Tillman declined comment when asked about the late chaos.

After the game resumed with a three-and-out series by the Ole Miss offense in the final minute and a 40-yard Velus Jones punt return to the Rebels' 47, Hooker rushed for 14 yards to the 33 but was injured. Joe Milton came in and advanced the Vols to the 21, but he overthew Tillman with 11 seconds remaining and chose to run the ball with three seconds left but was run out of bounds at the 8.

"I don't know if I'm more excited that we found a way to win or I didn't get hit with the golf balls they were throwing at me," Kiffin told the SEC Network. "They were throwing stuff, and I just told our guys to put their helmets on and play. It was their people who came over and moved us off the sideline.

"It is what it is. They're passionate fans."

The Vols will play at longtime rival Alabama (6-1, 3-1) at 7 p.m. next Saturday on ESPN.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.