Why Matt Corral gives Ole Miss offense the best chance, but John Rhys Plumlee has to be a part of it
As the days churn by in fall camp for Ole Miss, its future at the quarterback position continues to crystalize.
It is becoming clear that Matt Corral will likely be the team’s starting quarterback when it hosts Florida on Sept. 26. Corral and John Rhys Plumlee split time at the position a year ago and were both undercut by the indecisiveness of Matt Luke and Rich Rodriguez’s scheme — though the spread rushing attack showed flashes of success with Plumlee running the football.
They entered an offseason preparing to battle throughout the spring and summer as Lane Kiffin and his newly-minted staff evaluated which one fit their system better. Kiffin has worked with all types of quarterbacks from Jalen Hurts to Matt Barkely.
The first on-field glimpse Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby got came in late July. As camp began in August, Corral outperformed Plumlee in the first scrimmage and has maintained that initial degree of separation ever since. Plumlee missed a couple of practices last week with a mild hamstring injury, which is really when this competition seemed to tip its hand.
Whether Corral finishes the season at quarterback remains to be seen. It is worth noting that Ole Miss spent the entire offseason last year dubbing him the face of the program. Corral went to SEC Media Days as a rising sophomore, only to be replaced 3 games into the season after a rib injury he suffered in a loss to Cal. Plumlee gave a struggling offense a spark and started the next 2 games. Once Corral got healthy, a predictable, yet puzzling back-and-forth substitution pattern began.
Will that happen this year? It is doubtful as Kiffin is sure to be more decisive — but that also doesn’t mean it is Corral’s job for the duration. How long of a leash the official winner of this job gets will be fascinating to watch. When the staff names a starter, it will be important to stand behind the guy under center. The 2019 season is an example of what can go wrong when you don’t.
But when it is all said and done, Corral being the starter allows Ole Miss to tbe the best version of itself — that is if Plumlee is willing to shift to another position. It remains unclear if he is willing to do so. The previous staff promised Plumlee he’d be a quarterback if he came to Ole Miss. That’s the primary reason he is in Oxford and not Athens. But Corral wins the job, Plumlee is better served switching positions and playing than being the fastest clipboard carrier in the SEC.
Corral, from the small sample size we have seen, appears to possess more arm talent. That certainly was the expectation entering last season, that he would continue Ole Miss’ recent run of passing success. Entering 2019, Ole Miss had led the SEC in passing for 4 consecutive years from 2015 and finished in the top 5 every year starting with 2012.
Corral was next in line, a strong-armed 4-star product from California who was ranked the No. 4 pro-style player in the 2018 class. Two guys ahead of him were Trevor Lawrence and JT Daniels, now at Georgia and likely the Dawgs’ starting quarterback.
While Corral is the better passer, Plumlee’s speed is too elite to keep off the field. If Kiffin and Lebby can find a way to play both at the same time, the Rebels will be better for it. Conversely, if Plumlee is the every-down quarterback rather than in a special package, it is difficult to see how Corral’s services would be needed. Corral starting offers the best of both worlds: a more formidable passing attack and an incredibly versatile and unique skill set to use elsewhere in Plumlee.
No official word has been declared regarding this competition, but it is shaping up as if Corral will be under center at 11 a.m. local time on Sept. 26 against Florida. Ole Miss has the best shot at reaching its offensive peak if that is the case.