The bizarre and tragic ending to Tennessee-Ole Miss sparked a flood of emotions.
Anger at the needlessness of it all.
Sadness at how it overshadowed a fantastic game.
Confusion over why someone brought a golf ball to saturday's football game.
In the final minute, there were no compelling reasons for Tennessee fans to toss the field with debris. No matter how upset one may be over a questionable call, throwing water bottles, golf balls, mustard, and other items onto the field is no excuse. If you cant explain why this behavior is completely unacceptable, youre incapable of examining the situation rationally. One of those items thrown onto the field may have seriously injured someone, and that is unacceptable.
Unfortunately, a small percentage of the fans in attendance ruined what had otherwise been arranged to be surprisingly enjoyable. Tennessee gave Ole Miss a tough fight and gave hints of what may come in the future under Josh Heupel, who is completing his first year as head coach. After watching Saturday nights game, I should be talking about how Tennessee looks good and may even be ahead of schedule under Heupel. Instead, the childish actions of unruly fans will be the focus of the Tennessee-Ole Miss debate. What happened inside Neyland Stadium wasnt a fair representation of the majority of Tennessees fan base, but it wasn't the work of merely solitary fan. There was considerable debris on the sidelines, enough to put Tennessee fans in a national spotlight again, even if only solitary fans tossed items. That may not seem right to the good, level-headed Tennessee fans who didnt participate, but its the reality of the situation after the pathetic display that occurred at the end of this game.
It was so bad that cheerleaders, dance team, and the band all left the field before the game was over. Cheerleaders ran with signs covering their heads in case a projectile approached them. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss head coach, instructed his team to put on their helmets after he was hit by a golf ball. Fans were outraged after a tight call on oath against the Volunteers. The erratic behavior of fans sparked severe rebukes from SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Tennessee president Donde Plowman, and Tennessee AD Danny White for their classless acts. Plowman said she was astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans at the end of tonights game.
Sankey issued a strongly-worded statement after the pathetic display in Knoxville, saying the actions were inacceptable under any circumstances. Sankey hinted at whats to come by stating that the league will examine rules and the commissioner s authority to impose penalties and communicate with the leadership of the University of Tennessee -- and all of SECS member institutions -- to ensure that this situation is not repeated.
Well see how well the commissioners actions are paired with those words in the near future. Sankey must impose a larger fine for what happened in Neyland Stadium if schools are liable to hefty penalties for rushing the field. Sankeys goal will be to give a severe enough punishment to keep incidents like that from ever happening again while also being careful not to overdo it. Anyone caught throwing debris should be banned from SEC events for life. The SEC should hit Tennessee with a large fine and stern warning that could have severe consequences, such as fans being banned in attendance if it ever happens again. Kiffin and others may have been seriously hurt if golf balls and full water bottles had hit them in the wrong place. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured from anything thrown onto the field, but Kiffer and other players may've been severely injured.
What Tennessee fans did Saturday night should never have happened. It is a sad and harrowing incident that stains everything good that happened earlier that night. It is now up to Sankey and the Tennessee leadership to ensure that it never happens again.
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Dan Mullen is a good football coach. Bad coaches dont help Mississippi State reach a No. 1 ranking and snag tassels in the New Years Six Bowl in 2014. After his work with Dak Prescott, Alex Smith, and Tim Tebow, he has a deserved reputation for developing quarterbacks. Mullen can be one of the best offensive play-callers around when he gets things going. He won the SEC East last season and has taken Florida to a New Years Six bowl game three consecutive seasons in Gainesville.
However, after watching Florida lose to LSU, a game it had no business losing for many reasons, it's fair to question whether Mullen is the right fit for Florida long-term. Mullen was excellent at doing more with less at Mississippi State, but the expectations are different at Florida. Losing only four games a year gives you 'work for life' in Starkville; losing more than four times yearly puts you on the defensive in slack; and losing in Gainesville puts your career on hold in no time. This isnt an argument that Mullen should be in the hot seat right now, but rather a recognition that at this rate, it will continue to trend that way sooner than later.
Mullen is 4-6 in his last ten games. In their last eight games against Power 5 opponents, the Gators are 2-6. That is absolutely unacceptable at a Florida school with the resources, fan base, and infrastructure in place to be an annual national champion contender. Mullen likes to emphasize that it is not up to the Gator Standard, which is simply excellence and being the best you can be. Florida hasn't come close to being the best it can be this season, according to Mullen. Mullen is the sixth-highest-paid coach in America at $7.5 million annually, more than Georgias Kirby Smart and Ohio State s Ryan Day.
Smarts soaring No. 1 Georgia program has made it harder to win the SEC East, but Florida hasnt even played the Bulldogs yet this season and has already lost three of them. Losing to Alabama is one thing, but losing to a short-handed LSU team led by opulent LMU players may be viewed as revealing for the Mullen era. It only could be because Florida lost a game last season because he threw sand.
Mullen has two major shortcomings when it comes to his performance. First, he will always believe a person is the smartest in any room and be petulantly stubborn when asked. Anthony Richardson will be the starting quarterback moving forward, it was apparent to anyone with working eyes Saturday. Mullen has been stubborn all season about playing Emory Jones over Richardson, so when asked about it Saturday, he was unimpressed.
Were going to evaluate a lot of things, Mullen said. I thought you saw some good things from both quarterbacks today, saw a few mistakes from two quarterback's this morning. So well examine that of how thats going to play out in the future.
If Richardson isnt the starter as it will be moving forward, Florida fans might revolt. Even with some errors against LSU, Richardson is the better quarterback and gives the Gators a better chance to win. Mullen hasnt yet made the switch, which appears to get worse as the season progresses, despite acknowledging Richardson had some injury concerns earlier in the year.
Mullen is also not a good enough recruiter to capitalize on Floridas natural advantages. Mullen is almost always no match for Smart and Nick Saban for players they really want. Alabama and Georgia have more talent on their rosters than Florida, and that will continue to be the case as long as Mullen is there. Even though hes done fairly well at Florida, his recruiting ability isnt always the best. The problem is that even when you sign top-15 classes in the last three years, they arent among the top three in SEC. Florida signed the nation's No. 9 recruiting class in 2020, according to 247Sports, and yet it was only the sixth-best in the SEC. Mullen is facing a lot of competition. Florida has lost to LSU three straight years, two of which it should have won, and it shouldnt come as a surprise since Florida consistently ranks behind the Tigers in recruiting rankings.
Todd Grantham will be fired as defensive coordinator in the short term, under pressure from Mullen. Mullen has stayed loyal to Grantham, who is one of the nations highest-paid coordinators at $1.8 million. That move is long overdue, but the deal is still on the table. Its hard to argue that a thorough evaluation of the defensive approach is needed when you give up 321 rushing yards to nascent teams that averaged only 81 yards per game in SEC play. Hiring a more competent defensive coordinator will help, but the problems that plague this Florida program under Mullen wont be resolved with just one assistant hire. The issues are more rooted in Year 4 of the Mullen era than in Years 4 alone.
Florida will have a bye next week before facing Georgia in Jacksonville. The Gators will lose and go down to at least four losses on the season, the 10th time Mullen has managed at most four defeats out of 13 seasons as a head coach. Mullen has shown he can be a good coach, but it just doesnt look good enough for Florida.
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1) LSU at Ole Miss, 2:30 p.m. Ole Miss survived a chaotic night in Tennessee after overcoming riots in Florida. The Tigers are showing signs of recovery after outstripping Florida, while Olin Miss is showing its resilience after an upsetting night. Ed Orgeron must continue to win games like this to survive.
2) Tennessee vs. Alabama, 6 p.m. The Volunteers looked strong against Ole Miss, though few will remember that about that game. Alabama came out looking to send a message against Mississippi State, but the question is, can the Tide maintain that level of play?
3) South Carolina at Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m. While South Carolina was as fortunate as a team to escape with 0-2 victory last week, the Aggies are beginning to play closer to preseason expectations.
4) Mississippi State at Vanderbilt, 3 p.m. Vanderbilt is showing more signs of life, despite blowing what should have been a 2-0 victory over South Carolina. The Bulldogs had no chance against Alabama, but they may have a better chance if they beat the Commodores.
11 a.m., Arkansas Pine-Bluff at Arkansas Arkansas has lost its last three games, but with an easy victory here, it should be able to get back on track.
John Talty is the Alabama Media Group's sports editor and SEC Insider. Follow him on Twitter @JTalty for more information. Want to know more about SEC football? Sign up for our new college football newsletter here, which will be sent right to your inbox each Thursday morning.