Did Ole Miss give up on Matt Corral too soon in 2019?
What is becoming abundantly clear each time Matt Corral and the Ole Miss offense take the field is just what a disservice was done to the redshirt sophomore signal caller by the previous coaching staff in 2019.
Corral leads the country in quarterback rating, ranks 2nd in completion percentage and is 3rd in passing yards and yards per attempt. The numbers are staggering through 2 games, and is worth nothing that it has all come against more than competent defenses in Florida and Kentucky. He’s 46-for-60 for 715 yards, 7 touchdowns and an interception that was hardly his fault. Corral is the reason Ole Miss’ offense is successful and fun to watch. As the running game has teetered on mediocrity, the Rebels’ most consistent form of offense is Corral pushing the football down the field. (Ole Miss leads the SEC with 5 passing plays covering 40 or more yards.) That statement would have been thought to be far-fetched to say the least last winter.
It begs the question: What could have been had Ole Miss not given up on Corral so soon last year and why did they do it? Well, the latter portion is simple: As the Rebels stumbled out of the gate last season with losses to Memphis and Cal, Matt Luke was an embattled head coach rapidly running out of credit with his fan base and his superiors. John Rhys Plumlee fit Rich Rodriguez’s idea of a quarterback better. It’s worth mentioning that Luke was coaxed into the Rodriguez hire, which only added to the pressure.
At the first possible opportunity, Luke — who spent nearly 18 months dubbing Corral the quarterback of the future since his signing in December of 2017 — pulled the plug. Corral’s worst performance came in the 2nd and 3rd quarters in the season’s 4th game against Cal, and a rib injury sidelined him in the 4th quarter and opened the door for Plumlee to nearly cap a 2-touchdown comeback. For all intents and purposes, the rest was history. Luke and Rodriguez had their guy, occasionally throwing Corral in the game for a series or couple of plays once the offense got predicable and stale — which it did often — as if putting the passing quarterback in for obvious passing situations was not even more predictable. Let’s be fair and honest to Plumlee, too: As a Wildcat quarterback, he was wildly successful and fun to watch.
It all culminated, ironically enough, in Plumlee being benched for Corral in a 21-20 Egg Bowl loss to Mississippi State in which Corral was the one who nearly capped the comeback. Most assumed Corral was eyeing transfer destinations and that Plumlee was the future, until Luke was fired 72 hours later.
What would have happened if Luke hadn’t given up on Corral so soon? It’s a nearly impossible question to answer, but it is hard to fathom how it could have gone any worse than the reality. And now, 9 months later, Corral is coming into his own despite his development being undercut by an indecisive former staff.
Corral elected to stay, quickly won the quarterback job and is now in the hands of an offensive staff in Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby that will elevate him rather than hamper him. Even through a nearly perfect start to the 2020 season, Kiffin and Lebby are continuing to shape him through his flaws.
“Just calming down and cleaning up his feet in the pocket,” Kiffin said. “He’s kind of moving around a lot, making a lot of plays. At the same time, there are times he could stay in there and set himself a little more.”
Kiffin and Lebby have unlocked Corral and amended a system catered to his strengths, as opposed to the former staff trying to mold him into something he wasn’t before replacing him in favor of a 1-dimensional offense. What would have happened had Luke stuck with Corral? We may never know, but Kiffin is underscoring who exactly they benched less than three games into his collegiate career.