We have discussed the two-quarterback system here at Red Cup Rebellion. We have even discussed a three-quarterback system. But, with the emergence of true freshman John Rhys Plumlee and the now-healthy returning starter Matt Corral back and seemingly ready to cook, we are revisiting this topic.
Last weekend, Corral and Plumlee combined for 397 total yards and four touchdowns in an 11-point loss to now-No. 22-ranked Missouri on the road. Not only did they put up numbers, but they were able to coexist and be effective without toppling the offense’s rhythm and tripping up the progress made in Rich Rodriguez’s system.
MIZZOU 38, OLE MISS 27— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) October 14, 2019
* Honestly enjoyed how RichRod alternated between Corral (2-min drill, late-game catch-up) and Plumlee
* Plumlee's SO DAMN FAST and NOT A PASSER
* Maybe Mizzou's best off. performance of the season (esp. considering OM's top-40 D). Bryant in full control. pic.twitter.com/viZU9bOqOI
We here at the Cup feel that this can easily work and be something to not only help the offense thrive with two talented but different signal callers, but we also think it can be something that can give defensive coordinators fits.
Now, let’s take a look at past two-quarterback systems that not only were able to be successful, but thrived.
Chris Leak/Tim Tebow — 2006
The O.G. two-quarterback system that helped Urban Meyer win a national title and launch Dan Mullen’s career as a head coach. Leak, the pass-savvy signal caller, and Tebow, the bulldozer freshman, were a once in a lifetime combination that worked together so perfectly in Meyer and Mullen’s spread option offense.
Leak was a magician in the pocket, working through progressions to spread the football around to guys like Dallas Baker, Percy Harvin, and Andre Caldwell. Then, the Gators would bring in Tebow to slam the door shut in short-yardage situations and work the run game with Deshawn Wynn.
The result? A SEC title and a national championship game blowout of No. 2 Ohio State. Now, the Rebels aren’t going to get that if they try a two-quarterback system full-time, but there’s no doubt it can be done at a high level.
Leak was listed at 6’1, 205 pounds at his playing weight, while Corral is listed at 6’1, 206 pounds. The two are virtually identical in stature, and the similarities go beyond size.
Though his time behind center is minimal, and he has made his fair share of bad throws, the Ole Miss gunslinger has shown a similar bounce in his quick-drop. Like Leak, he sets his feet, shifts his momentum and extends through his throws. And the two can really hum it, averaging about 12.5 yards per completion in their respective seasons.
Almost more impressive is Corral’s downfield vision as a freshman, which mimics Leak’s ability to read a defense as a senior. Here, both quarterbacks take a two-step drop, go through their first reads on the edges, and come back to complete a pass on a slant route over the middle.
Outside of the pocket, the two share a mobility that creates additional space, time and opportunity to extend a play beyond a collapsing pocket.
Here, both quarterbacks use the play action to force the defense’s first step away from the play, rollout to the opposite side, and drop a dime to their receiver in coverage streaking down the sideline. Corral adds a wrinkle with a violent pump fake that keeps the safety over the middle for just a second longer, and creates more space for Elijah Moore.
Where the two differ, is in running the football. Corral has 58 percent of Leak’s total carries in 2006, but he averages over two yards more per carry, and that includes a negative 28-yard day against Southeastern. The two have more in common than the initial measurements, and Corral holds a freshman status.
Their counterparts do not quite match up in proportion, as Tebow outweighs Plumlee by about 50 pounds and has him beat vertically by a few inches. However, the Ole Miss speedster would beat the Gator bruiser in a foot-race 11 times out of 10.
The next national-sensation scrambling QB under Rich Rodriguez may be Ole Miss freshman QB John Rhys Plumlee. pic.twitter.com/budxuGvLGp— Matt Joye (@mattjoye) October 13, 2019
That being said, both run-first quarterbacks thrive in an option-based system and know a thing or two about getting to the edge and running through contact.
And despite the clear advantage given to their feet, they share the ability to make a perfect throw downfield when the receiver creates enough of a cushion between him and the cornerback. Here, both Plumlee and Tebow sense the pressure closing in, hold on to the ball just long enough for their primary read to get open (but not long enough to take a sack), and drop the ball in the breadbasket.
It’s not a perfect science, but the signal callers on both teams share an uncanny resemblance to one another. If Ole Miss chooses to follow Meyer’s blueprint for success with two quarterbacks, it could force defenses out of sync and open a door that leads to tangible results.
Landry Jones/Blake Bell — 2012
Six years later, Oklahoma and their tag team offensive coordinator monster of Josh Huepel and Jay Norvell came up with the idea of giving their starting pitcher a break here and there and bringing in the closer, the Bulldozer.
Jones had no issues spinning it for the Sooners, throwing for 4,267(!) yards and 30 touchdowns with the help of Kenny Stills, Justin Brown, Jalen Saunders, and Sterling Shepard. Then, in the backfield, the Belldozer would come in in certain spots to give Landry’s right wing relief and to move the sticks.
When looking at the stats, Bell didn’t run for a ton like Tebow, but he was effective, averaging 3.4 yards per carry and scoring 11(!) touchdowns with his feet. Huepel and Norvell found the right mix of air attack and ground attack with Jones and Bell and were able to win 10 games, a share of the Big 12 title, and a Cotton Bowl berth.
This combo is sort of the opposite of Corral/Plumlee because Rodriguez doesn’t throw it nearly as much and Plumlee runs it much more than Bell, but it shows that a Power 5 team, once again, was able to find a way to make it work and excel.
Where the two systems could compare is in use. A quarterback like Corral, who lies more with Jones’ ability to throw the ball, could be used between the twenty or thirty yard lines to open up the field. He could throw the ball downfield and create big plays over the top. Once Ole Miss gets past a designated yard mark, Plumlee could come in to finish it off on the ground (or in the air, in the right situation).
Bell may have be able to keep the ball up the middle more often than Plumlee, but a crossing play where the quarterback follows his lead blockers is efficient inside and outside. Heck, it went for six against Alabama.
The idea of pulling a quarterback for another to run the ball in the red zone is not uncommon among college football over the last decade. Pulling the starting quarterback for a run-first back-up in the red zone is not all that uncommon in college football these days. But, Ole Miss fans might still have a bad taste left in their mouth from Barry Brunetti coming in for Hugh Freeze’s red zone offense in 2012 and 2013. To be fair to Barry, the play-calling didn’t exactly help him out.
With that in mind, Plumlee is a considerably better athlete than Brunetti, which is saying something.
JRP in the red zone has worked already this season, and should continue to work.
Connor Shaw/Dylan Thompson — 2012
That same year, Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks had one of the most unique offenses in the country. They ran a two-quarterback system, but it was two quarterbacks who primarily threw the ball instead of being one of each. Shaw, the elder QB, led the way with 1,956 yards and 17 touchdowns while Thompson, the younger change-of-pace slinger, threw for 1,027 yards and 10 touchdowns.
On the ground, the two combined for 458 yards and four touchdowns. But, this version of the 2QBS was all about taking your opponent’s soul via the air with help from friends like Bruce Ellington, Ace Sanders, and Damiere Byrd. The two quarterbacks helped USC notch the fourth of five-straight wins over arch-rival Clemson that year, the second-straight season with 11 wins, and an Outback Bowl victory over top-20 Michigan.
Ole Miss won’t have to worry about figuring out how to use two quarterbacks with identical skillsets in 2019, and maybe not in 2020, but the two guys were able to do big things under center for Spurrier, despite both specializing in the same thing.
What the ‘Rebel Rugrats’ could learn most from Shaw and Thompson, is the ability to get up for one another. Often times, when two quarterbacks are in the mix, there can be resent, anger and tension between both guys. What the Gamecock duo exemplified was the ability to stay in the game, keep focus, and be excited for success, regardless of which quarterback was in the game.
Coming into the season, there was no question at quarterback for the Rebels — Corral was the guy. Entering week eight, there is a different narrative, and that can take a toll on a young mind. Yet, as the tag-team offense got its start in the 3rd quarter against Missouri, both guys were ready at a moment’s notice, high-fiving one another during the rotation, and genuinely excited when the other was playing well. Just look at Corral’s reaction when his counterpart found room to run.
While the jury is still out on who will play when, or if they both will play, the young duo seem to have their heads in the right place. For now, the situation is what it is. If the two can stay positive, stay elevated, and do their jobs, they can win games.
Tommy Stevens/Trace McSorley — 2017
Then, our last stop five years later was Joe Moorhead’s version of the 2QBS in Happy Valley. Starter Trace McSorley replaced Christian Hackenburg in 2016, taking them from a seven-win team to an 11-win team. The running game was in good hands with enormous human, Saquon Barkley, but the former Nittany Lion offensive coordinator turned Mississippi State head coach knew he needed to get backup quarterback Tommy Stevens on the field.
McSorley, who threw for 3,570 yards and 28 touchdowns, while also running for 491 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2017 would hand it off literally and figuratively to Stevens that season. The now Mississippi State quarterback would sub in and accumulate 190 yards and four touchdowns on the ground and 158 yards and three touchdowns through the air that season.
Moorhead and the Penn State offense incorporated both quarterbacks at the same time effectively and without hesitation. Moorhead was innovative enough to get creative and utilize both athletes, something that we have advocated numerous times for Rodriguez and Ole Miss.
Ian Boyd wrote about this last summer and spoke with head coach James Franklin about why he chose to do this with his already amazing offense.
”I think it does a number of things,’’ Lions coach James Franklin said when asked about the offense’s two-QB look.
”It allows us to get another guy involved in our game plan, it allows us to get Tommy game experience and on the field, which is always challenging at the quarterback position. It puts another weapon on the field.
”He’s a big, strong, fast guy, and they have to be concerned about him throwing the ball as well, so it makes a defense tentative when you have a quarterback like that carrying the ball.”
These sound like all similar reasons as to why Plumlee should play alongside Corral this season don’t they? JRP isn’t 6’5, 235 pounds, but he is someone who, at any time, is the best athlete on the field, can outrun just about everyone, and can still throw it around a little bit if you need him to.
In one instance of Penn State’s system, McSorley takes the snap and hands off to Stevens. Stevens fakes the reverse to his sweeping running back (who just so happens to be Saquon Barkley), and takes it around the corner for six.
The play is creative, and so is Rodriguez. There is no limit to the number of plays similar to the faux reverse for Plumlee, Corral, and...Jerrion Ealy? Ever heard of him?
On a more simplistic level, as Franklin stated, putting both quarterbacks on the field at the same time would allow Rodriguez to get another guy involved that can be utilized as a weapon in the offense. Corral can throw it around the yard and keep the defense honest while Plumlee terrorizes them with his feet, bringing them to their knees.
A defense would have to stay honest to both quarterbacks, which keeps at least one defender off the primary ball carrier. For example, Plumlee could be used as a decoy runner to pull the defense toward him, and Corral could take it up the middle himself. It doesn’t quite work out for the Nittany Lions in this instance, but the scheme is illustrated nonetheless, as even the camera man is fooled.
This particular strategy/formation can be incredibly useful in the red zone. It gives the option of zipping the football to the boundary or up the seam with Corral, or getting Plumlee on the edge with a run/pass option where he can use his speed to evade the defense and make them pay whichever way he sees fit.
And, it would be fun.
Matt Corral/John Rhys Plumlee — 2019?
What is to happen with the Ole Miss quarterback situation is yet to be seen, and won’t come to light until the offense takes the field for its first possession against Texas A&M on Saturday. Plumlee and Corral are each proficient in their own right, with Plumlee running the ball, and Corral passing the ball. And each has made a case to be on the field.
So why not play them both?
The past has shown us that running a two-quarterback system can work. In fact, it attributed to a National Championship in 2006. Certainly, a national title bid is not in the near future for the Rebels, but bowl eligibility in 2019 is not unforeseeable.
As the season comes down the home-stretch, offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez has to put his creativity to the test, get his best athletes on the field and win games.
To do so, Ole Miss should run a two-quarterback system.