When Ole Miss got off the bus for the Week one matchup against Memphis in late August, there was no debate as to who would start at quarterback.
Matt Corral, the redshirt freshman and former four-star recruit from the Gold Coast, was the guy. There was not even a discussion for another name to fill the role.
After an okay start in the Rebels’ loss to Memphis, Corral strung together back-to-back showings where he looked like a quarterback ready to compete in the Southeastern Conference. There was never a thought about moving him down the depth chart.
Then, in Week four, Corral struggled with a strong California Berkeley defense and went down with a chest injury in the fourth quarter. There came a chaotic twist in the Ole Miss season, as true freshman John Rhys Plumlee entered the game, in striking distance of a win.
On his first play from scrimmage he broke a 47-yard run down the sideline, and would complete all seven of his pass attempts in a valiant effort that fell inches short of tying the game as the clock expired. Suddenly, speculation surrounding Corral’s job security came from the social media skippers, and Plumlee was tabbed as the future of the program.
(Remember, those same internet intellectuals called for Matt Luke to be the head coach after one win over Mississippi State. Just saying.)
Corral was ruled out for the Alabama game, and the people got their wish. Plumlee got his chance to start, in a game that held very little expectation. The Rebel offense, with Plumlee at the forefront and a Grant Tisdale sighting in the fourth quarter, hung 31 points on the top team in the nation.
Ole Miss hosts a bad Vanderbilt team this weekend, and has a decision to make. Corral’s health is uncertain, Plumlee has shown the ability to make plays, and Tisdale’s arm is undeniable. Where does a program needing a win against an (objectively) inferior opponent turn?
The two-quarterback offense.
There are three types of two-quarterback systems. Let’s break it down.
The two most common ways to play two quarterbacks is to give them each playing time throughout a game, or to design a specific package for a specific player.
The traditional way is a proven strategy.
In 2017, Jeff Brohm took over a Purdue program and inherited two quarterbacks with the ability to lead a Big Ten team. He ran a two-quarterback system, but staged it more as an ongoing quarterback competition in real game situations. One quarterback played the first quarter, and the other played the second. From there, Brohm rode the hot hand into the second half.
It’s a philosophy that partially goes back to Brohm’s roots as a player under Howard Schnellenberger at Louisville, but has been used repeatedly over the last 50 years.
More often than not playing both quarterbacks stems from an uncertainty at the position in early weeks, and as the old adage goes, “if you have two quarterbacks, then you don’t have one.” But that is an old adage for a reason. The game has evolved on the back of speed and space, and time has shown that it’s possible to make a place for an athlete to thrive.
Yin and Yang has worked before.
Take 2018 Alabama, for example. After Tua Tagovailoa took over for Jalen Hurts in the 2017 National Championship game, Nick Saban awarded the starting nod to Tagovailoa for the following season. In 2018, Tagovailoa (a prominent passer) received the majority of snaps, and Hurts (a dominant runner) got involved in specific situations. That team went back to the National Championship.
Most notably, Urban Meyer used both Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida. Leak lit up the stat-sheet with his arm and ability to scramble, and Tebow complimented him with a short-yardage, power package. That team won a National Championship in 2006.
Ole Miss is familiar with this concept, having run out of a similar package in recent years. Catering specifically for quarterbacks who showed raw talent but didn’t quite fit the mold, it gets athletes that need to be on the field, on the field.
Barry Brunetti, De’Vante ⚔️ Kincade and Jeremy ‘Big Lig’ Liggins, to name a few.
Foreseeably, the Rebels could take a similar approach with their current quarterback room. Corral could run the standard offense if he is healthy, Plumlee could be used as a Swiss Army knife in his own run-first package, and Tisdale could be ready at a moment’s notice.
Let’s get weird.
The third way to run a two-quarterback system is unique, chaotic, and the way Ole Miss should turn. Rather than playing each quarterback individually, it uses both at the same time.
A literal two-quarterback offense, if you will.
While the idea had been around in smaller scenes, it gained national attention in 2012 when the University of Louisiana Monroe’s “Funroe” offense went 8-4 with an upset of a top-10 Arkansas team, and one-score losses to Auburn and Baylor.
The concept revolves around a zone-read offense — which, interestingly enough, is kind of Ole Miss offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez’s thing...
Different from a traditional read offense in which a running back is in the backfield, it puts two quarterbacks on the field who might get the snap as the primary option, or take a handoff/pitch as the secondary option.
And in both instances, either option can run the ball or pass to a receiver down field.
On a simplistic level, there are four options to each play. Both quarterbacks can run or pass.
Then you add in the wrinkles. One quarterback can pitch back to the other, who can then run or pass. One quarterback could take a jet sweep from the other, who can then run or pass. One quarterback can pass back to the other, who can then run or pass.
From there, the iterations are endless, and Rodriguez can really get jiggy with it.
Penn State, who occasionally ran a two-quarterback scheme in 2017 and 2018, proved that it can be more than just a fun gimmick for a team who needs to out-smart its competitors.
In some instances, the second quarterback became a decoy runner.
In others, he moved downfield as a receiver after faking a block on the perimeter.
Here, he takes the handoff from the primary quarterback, fakes the flip to Saquon Barkley, and keeps it around the edge for a touchdown.
The fake reverse draws Maryland’s nickel defense to follow Barkley, which gives the secondary quarterback a clear running lane to the end zone. Now imagine Corral getting the snap, Plumlee taking the handoff, and Jerrion Ealy running the reverse.
It’s innovative, confusing, and just wild enough to work.
The caveat with playing two quarterbacks lies in the talent and ability of each. For a system this crazy to be successful, the two quarterbacks running it have to be agile, versatile, strong, and still able to throw a decent spiral. Neither quarterback has to do any one of those things to an unbelievable degree, but he must hold the four key traits.
For Ole Miss, Corral, Plumlee and Tisdale do.
Corral has shown his ability to chuck the ball, and can take off downfield when he’s in trouble. He may not be the most accurate, and he may try to do too much at times, but he holds the four key traits.
Here’s your #SEC freshman of the week, #OleMiss QB Matt Corral, going through his first reads on the left side of the field before coming back and finding Elijah Moore up the seams on his right. Good patience and progression through the reads pic.twitter.com/Sq4dxdoVwy— Nathanael Gabler (@nategabler) September 9, 2019
Plumlee, who chose Ole Miss because Rodriguez promised him the chance to play quarterback when other schools did not, has an uncanny ability to make things happen. He may have a long way to go with his passing, but he also holds the four key traits.
John Rhys Plumlee got hops!!! pic.twitter.com/HCTzn7Kftc— JaiHawkFLY (@JaiHawkFly) September 28, 2019
Tisdale, who went 2-for-2 for 56 yards in his one series against Alabama, recorded 69 passing touchdowns and 32 rushing touchdowns across his high school career. He too holds the four key traits.
If he really wanted to get crazy, Rodriguez could always put all three quarterbacks on the field at the same time. Princeton did it in 2013, and I mean, Ole Miss is just an Ivy League school in the south after-all.
On a serious note, some may see the Rebels as having a quarterback problem. Perhaps it’s a good problem to have, especially in a rebuilding year.
Entering this weekend’s matchup with Vanderbilt, the starter has yet to be named, and the future behind center is no longer sure. Rodriguez has himself three different guys who could step into the starting role right now. Each is different, but brings a similar toughness and “send it” attitude to the table.
Qaadir Sheppard mentioned on Tuesday that Plumlee will get the nod, but nothing is official, and that doesn’t answer the looming questions.
If Corral is not healthy, he will not play, obviously. And if he doesn’t play, Plumlee will start. In that case, will Tisdale get the chance to strut his stuff?
If Corral is healthy, will Plumlee start anwyay?
Will Corral get reps? Will Tisdale?
The answer to each query, is a two-quarterback offense. ¡Let’s get weird!