Intrigue remains at QB for Ole Miss as season gets underway
When Ole Miss takes the field Saturday against Florida, all signs point toward Matt Corral — not John Rhys Plumlee — taking the opening snap against the school he was formerly committed to and the coach who wanted to go in a different direction at the quarterback position during the 2018 signing period.
But the intrigue primarily lies with Plumlee, who waited behind Corral for less than 4 games a season ago before making the most of a 4th-quarter opportunity against Cal when Corral exited the game with a rib injury. That moment began of indecision and erratic substitution from Rich Rodriguez and Matt Luke, a puzzling 2-quarterback system that undercut both players’ development in what became a 4-8 season.
What will the story be this year?
The best-case scenario is that Corral grabs control of this job and never looks back because that presumably means he is performing well and the team is competing in games. Another byproduct of this is Plumlee — if willing — playing elsewhere and using a unique skill set and elite speed that captivated many in college football a season ago to the point that many assumed it was his job and there was no competition this summer.
But it’s not as cut and dry as that. Plumlee is at Ole Miss and not Georgia because he was promised the opportunity to play quarterback by the previous staff. Is he willing to give up that idea and change positions? Would he prefer to sit out and transfer? The latter would seem like a more likely scenario if this year counted against a player’s eligibility, which it does not due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Can Plumlee play the slot? Could Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby use him out of the backfield and get him in space? He is too valuable to be confined to the sidelines. Monday, Kiffin alluded to both playing, but in what capacity?
The other side of this is if Corral struggles. How long is his leash? Do Kiffin and Lebby continue back him if the offense struggles for a couple of games? A game? A half? It is paramount for Corral to get off to a fast start to instill confidence in the staff, and in some ways, himself and the rest of the Ole Miss offense. Corral likely knows this, too. He was hailed as the face of the program throughout the last offseason, even going to SEC Media Days as a redshirt freshman, only to have the plug pulled on him after 4 games.
Is there a scenario where a 2-quarterback system works? Despite last year’s failure, could Kiffin and Lebby find a more efficient use for both quarterbacks? They offer drastically different skill sets that could be woven into a difficult scheme to stop. It will just have to be constructed more efficiently than the predictable one Luke and Rodriguez led.
Ole Miss’ quarterback situation is its biggest storyline heading into the season and it will be fascinating to watch unfold as the Rebels wade deep into the 2020 campaign.