Ole Miss football: Matt Corral's 2021 return gives Rebels newfound stability
Though Matt Corral’s 2020 success feels newfound and long-awaited, it was not a given that he would return in 2021.
That changed Wednesday when Lane Kiffin dropped a tidbit in his media availability about Corral’s 2021 plans. Kiffin said Corral told him earlier in the week that he is “1,000 percent coming back,” and his reasoning was, “I need another year here.”
Most rational prognosticators and people around the program assumed the redshirt sophomore would come back for 2021 — when he would be a redshirt sophomore again — particularly considering the top-heavy NFL Draft quarterback class that will include Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. But Corral simply being eligible to enter the Draft cast a smidgen of doubt that perhaps grew incrementally with every strong performance.
The news, while not unexpected at all, is a significant development for Kiffin and the Rebels as they navigate the tail end of a bizarre 1st season and an uncertain and unconventional early signing period and set their sights on what most hope is a normal 2021.
Kiffin and Corral offer each other stability in different ways.
Corral will enter his 4th collegiate season with the same offensive coordinator and head coach for the 1st time in his career. Having to learn 3 systems in 3 seasons — the 2nd of which could not have fit his skill set worse, and led to him being benched 4 games into his 1st year as a starter — has made his ascent in 2020 all the more remarkable. What Matt Luke and Rich Rodriguez did to Corral — propping him up as the face of the program all offseason, only to pull the plug after 4 games in favor of a backup who could not throw — might ruin some quarterbacks’ development and careers. The stability and comfort Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby have offered Corral have unlocked the arm strength and accuracy that made him such an enticing prospect out of high school. Keep in mind, this will be his 1st spring and full offseason further learning the intricacies of this scheme.
On the other side of the coin, Kiffin now has a quarterback to build his offense around, at least for 1 more year.
When Kiffin arrived, he had 2 fairly unknown commodities in Corral and John Rhys Plumlee and did not have the benefit of spring practice to conduct a traditional quarterback competition. This is purely speculation, but one would think that part of Kiffin’s thinking was to get through the season with the best possible option and recruit his own hand-picked quarterback to run his system and build the program around. In other words, it’s doubtful that he forecasted this level of success from Corral given the odd offseason and the little available SEC game tape on him. After all, Corral entered this season having started 1 SEC game.
But of course, fast forward 3 months and Corral is 1 bad game in Fayetteville away from deserving Heisman recognition. Kiffin now has another year to build the rest of his team without worrying about what he will get at the most important position. He’s simultaneously afforded the luxury of patience when it comes to picking Corral’s successor. That’s important, especially considering the fact that the rebuild on defense appears to be a lengthy one.
Ask yourself this: How many games does Ole Miss win this year with a defense that entered the Egg Bowl allowing 40 points per game if Corral is not the quarterback? One? Two? It’s hard to imagine many more than that, and yet the Rebels are 4-4 with more than a puncher’s chance to go 6-4. It’s easy to see the tangible results Corral has produced when given stability. It is more difficult to quantify the stability that Corral has given Kiffin and this staff, but you’d be foolish to underestimate that.
Ole Miss generally knows what their offense will look like in 2021 even despite the possibility (likely a probability) that their best receiver, Elijah Moore, will move on to the NFL. That is a luxury that a lot of programs in the SEC will not be afforded. Just look at Ole Miss the past 3 seasons if you need an example. While not surprising, Corral’s return solidifies an already sturdy foundation on offense as the Rebels move into Year 2 under Kiffin.