Lane Kiffin had absorbed all the throws from fans along the east sideline Saturday night in Tennessee's Neyland Stadium.
The debris tossed after a controversial fourth-down stop for Kiffin's Ole Miss defense and a fourth-down shortcoming for the Vols' offense included numerous water bottles, beer cans, a French's mustard bottle and … a golf ball.
Yellow. That Kiffin picked up and placed in his pocket. Then his Rebels deposited a nail-biting, 31-26 win – the program's first on Rocky Top since 1983.
When it all ended, and officials resumed the game after a 20-minute delay, Ole Miss still had to withstand Joe Milton's scrambled heave into the end zone off the fingertips of Cedric Tillman and then Milton's ill-advised decision to scramble and scamper out of bounds around the 10-yard line and with no time left on the clock.
“Relief,” Kiffin told SEC Network's Cole Cubelic during his on-field postgame interview, moments before Kiffin tossed his Ole Miss visor to a Vols' fan in the south end zone. “I don't know if I'm more excited that we found a way to win or that I didn't get hit with the golf balls they were throwing at me.
“Our defense rose to the occasion. We did horrible on offense there by not finishing off. Great job, the quarterback (Matt Corral) battled with a ton of injuries around him. We had basically four starters didn't play on offense. Electric crowd. This is a great place with great fans.”
UT Chancellor Donde Plowman posted a statement on the mayhem almost immediately after the game, and she followed up her first message with a second message in which she vowed to apologize to Ole Miss Chancellor Glenn Boyce.
Though Corral threw his first interception of the season – and by extension, the first by an Ole Miss quarterback in the 2021 campaign – the Heisman Trophy candidate also closed with 426 yards' total offense.
That included Corral's career-high 195 rushing yards. Kiffin said the Rebels “basically played” without four offensive starters, including a pair of Corral's top offensive weapons.
But he had told Cubelic before the game, “We got No. 2 (Corral), so we'll be all right.”
Still, as administrators from both schools and on-field officials huddled during the last-minute melee that resulted when Vols' tight end Jacob Warren was ruled down a half-yard short of what would have been a drive-extending fourth-down conversion, Kiffin said he simply tried to keep his squad focused.
“They were just throwing stuff,” Kiffin said of the fans. “I just said put your helmets on and let's play. Actually their people came over to move us off. Some people I knew before (from Kiffin's 2009 season as the Vols' head coach) that were worried about us.
“It is what it is. They're passionate fans and they're 100,000 people who came to see the show. Didn't end up the way they wanted. It is what it is.”