Why Matt Corral still has a path to the Heisman Trophy, and it could open up even more vs. Arkansas
If you viewed last Saturday’s showdown in Tuscaloosa as a Heisman Trophy elimination game, you viewed it incorrectly.
Sure, Bryce Young vs. Matt Corral was an intriguing chapter in the Heisman race, and it absolutely helped the Alabama signal-caller. Hence, why Young leapfrogged Corral as the new favorite (+125 compared to +250 on FanDuel). Corral didn’t deliver an Alabama performance reminiscent of 2010 Cam Newton, 2012 Johnny Manziel or 2019 Joe Burrow. Had he done that, you can bet those Heisman odds would be overwhelmingly in Corral’s favor.
But if you thought Saturday all but ended Corral’s Heisman bid, you’re mistaken.
That path is still there, contrary to the lack of Heisman buzz you’ll hear associated with Corral’s name coming off a loss.
If Corral had delivered a 6-interception game reminiscent of last year’s Arkansas showing, that’d be one thing. He didn’t, though. He didn’t turn the ball over. Corral would be the first to say that he didn’t make nearly enough plays to win that game, but his quarterback rating was 145.5 on the day. He just couldn’t get anything going downfield, and with the run game all but taken away, yards came a bit tougher than usual.
Speaking of last year’s Arkansas showing, Corral gets a chance at some redemption on Saturday against the Hogs. The same defense that stymied him in drop-8 coverage is even better in Year 2 with Barry Odom. The Razorbacks are No. 32 in the country in scoring defense, and they’re No. 2 in FBS against the pass. They’re a legitimate Top 25 team that would potentially add a key notch to Corral’s Heisman narrative belt.
Of course, that only matters if Corral does indeed show that year-to-year improvement. We’re talking about an Arkansas defense who allowed just 1 passing touchdown in its first 5 games. It’s by no means a given that Corral will dice up the Hogs like they’re Tulane.
Let’s keep something else in mind with the award. Despite what the last 4 Heisman winners would suggest, you don’t necessarily have to be a Playoff-bound team to win the award. Remember Lamar Jackson? His team lost both of its 2 pre-Heisman vote games — and did so to Group of 5 Houston and Kentucky — in decisive fashion.
So why did Jackson still win the award playing for a 9-3 Louisville team? A couple reasons. One is that statistically speaking, he did something rare. That is, he hit the 50-touchdown mark (combined passing/rushing) in a 12-game regular season.
For whatever reason, that number matters. Sam Bradford hit 50 in the regular season and won the award in 2008. Kyler Murray did the same and beat out Tua Tagovailoa in 2018. With the exception of Air Raid quarterbacks at Texas Tech, the only other Power 5 quarterbacks to hit 50 combined regular-season touchdowns and not win the Heisman was Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts in 2019 (because Burrow happened) and Dwayne Haskins in 2018 (because Murray happened).
Tim Tebow hit 50 and became the first sophomore to ever win the Heisman in 2007. It didn’t matter that like Jackson, Tebow played for a 9-3 team. That’s very well the type of year that Corral could be set up for, albeit without some sort of 30-20 split of passing touchdowns to rushing touchdowns like both Tebow and Jackson had. It’d be a bit more skewed to the passing side, despite the fact that Corral is tied for the SEC lead in rushing touchdowns having played 1 fewer game the rest of the league.
Matt Corral puts Ole Miss on the board 👏
— FanSided (@FanSided) October 2, 2021
I’m not saying Corral is definitely hitting 50 scores this year, but would we rule that out? No way. He has a 10-0 TD-INT ratio, plus he has 6 rushing touchdowns. That means he’s on pace for 48 scores in the regular season with Alabama already in the rearview mirror (remember that Ole Miss has only played 4 games). To hit 50 touchdowns, that’d be an average of 4.25 scores per game the rest of the way, which really doesn’t seem that far-fetched with the spot Corral is in playing in Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby’s offense.
What’s the other part of this? Going viral.
Jackson, of course, did that extremely well. Putting defenders in the spin cycle made him must-see TV. Ripping off a 70-yard run like a tailback helped Jackson earn a national spotlight even when Louisville wasn’t always on a national stage. While Corral’s rushing abilities definitely aren’t on a Jackson level — they’re still well above average for a quarterback — his arm is certainly beyond the former Louisville star. Hence, the viral-ability (word or not a word?).
I’ve watched this throw from Matt Corral countless times, and I still can’t get over the movement the camera does in order to see where this bomb lands.pic.twitter.com/sbKq6MugD9
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) April 23, 2021
It doesn’t have to be a contested throw for Corral to go viral, either. When you’ve got Kiffin on the sidelines, anything is possible:
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 15, 2020
By the way, that was last year. Corral’s first 4 games suggest that he’s even more dangerous to stretch the field.
Couple that with the whole “not forcing throws into drop-8 coverage” deal and yeah, Corral can follow the Heisman narrative. Just because he had a little bit more preseason hype than a 2019 Joe Burrow or a 2016 Jackson doesn’t mean his stock has a ceiling. Go ask 2017 Baker Mayfield about that. It’s all about taking that next step.
So far, it absolutely looks like Corral has done that. Maybe his pace of 48 regular-season touchdowns with 4,113 scrimmage yards falls off a bit. Shoot, maybe it happens this weekend against Arkansas. Perhaps Corral’s second consecutive disappointing game shifts those odds to a place where he can’t recover from.
I wouldn’t bet on that, though. I’d instead bet on Corral being as motivated and ever to show that he’s a different guy than the one Arkansas fans saw torpedo in last year’s contest. If there was ever a time in which we would’ve seen Corral start forcing the issue, it would’ve been after falling behind big early against Alabama. That didn’t happen, though. He was out-played by Young, but it wasn’t exactly by some overwhelming margin.
Some might assume that as long as Young is standing on 2 feet for an unbeaten Alabama team that he’ll block Corral’s path. Maybe that will happen, but it didn’t exactly work out for 2018 Tua Tagovailoa or even 2020 Mac Jones.
That’s not to take anything away from Young. It’s just worth remembering that these things often go down to the wire. They certainly aren’t decided on the first Saturday of October. There are sure to be more twists and turns with the Heisman. For all we know, it’ll turn into a thriller by season’s end.
One batch of burnt popcorn won’t ruin that.