We are well into the homestretch of the 2019 football season. The Rebels have played nine games and won just three. Injuries at the quarterback position forced Matt Luke and his staff to make a tough decision and to play one of their freshmen signal callers in the absence of redshirt freshman starter Matt Corral.
In steps John Rhys Plumlee.
He immediately made an impact in a last-second loss to Cal, exploding onto the scene with an electrifying run and a few passes downfield, putting the Rebels in a position to score, go for two, and force overtime. We all know what happened, but the proverbial seed was planted. People wanted more Plumlee.
After that, he put up 241 yards through the air and on the ground against Alabama, 264 yards total against Vanderbilt, 246 yards against Missouri, and 178 yards against Auburn last week.
But, the bugaboo here has been the yards through the air coming at a difficult rate. The true freshman has struggled to not only drive the football down the field consistently, but he has also struggled mightily in the intermediate passing game as well. But, we think we have a solution.
Back in 2016, Stanford University had a player by the name of Christian McCaffrey who had a similar skill set to Plumlee’s. Elusive, home run speed, vision, and a knack for the big play. McCaffrey was not a quarterback, but head coach Brian Shaw knew that it was imperative to not only have the future Carolina Panther on the field at all times, but to have him on the field in a wide variety of ways, positions, and looks.
Not only does this allow you to keep your best play maker on the field, but it also affords you the opportunity to play your best all-around quarterback in Corral. Struggles to stretch the field no more!
Now, the Rebels only have three games left this season. Four, if they can pull off a miracle. But, this could be something they workshop this weekend against hapless New Mexico State and see if it’s something they could utilize next season with Corral starting a quarterback and Plumlee being the Swiss Army Knife of the offense.
Traditional usage would be as a running back.
In Palo Alto, McCaffrey primarily played running back, totaling 3,922 yards and 21 touchdowns. But, coming out of high school, the Colorado native had a similar frame to the Rebels’ quarterback.
In this video, you can see the several ways that the Cardinal utilized McCaffrey’s skill set from the running back position.
Whether it was simple stretch plays, zone runs, or basic isolation run plays, Stanford did what they could to get the football in his hands as easy as they could, using a hand-off. Now, you can’t sit there with a straight face and tell me that Plumlee could not be used the exact same way. If anything, he would be a bit more shielded behind the offensive line as he stands just 6’0 (on a good day).
Think of a backfield with Matt Corral in shotgun with Jerrion Ealy on one side and John Rhys Plumlee next to him. Plus, you have the potential opportunity to do this:
Who needs a hand-off? Just do the Wildcat.
One might argue that Ole Miss is essentially already doing this. Hell, I’ve said they’re basically just running the veer from the shotgun. But, this way he’s not exclusively on the field every down as the quarterback and it can keep the defense somewhat honest.
Here, we see McCaffrey in the Wildcat in the red zone, staying patient behind his blockers and picking his spot to accelerate into the end zone. As I mentioned before, Plumlee is most likely under six-feet tall so this is an even better spot to use this in the red zone where he can hide behind his offensive line and use his burst when a hole opens up for him, slipping behind an over-aggressive linebacker trying to stuff a run fit at the line of scrimmage.
Please use him in the passing game.
It is no secret the Rebels have struggled to move the ball through the air this season. Albeit the run game has been productive and the running back room is loaded with talent, but Corral is healthy now and I am sure eager to spin it.
Let Plumlee do his thing in the passing game. Expose some mismatches, let him get out in space, and embarrass some people.
Here we see him run a simple halfback choice route out of the backfield, matched up on a linebacker. As you can see, McCaffrey makes one shimmy and the backer is left in the dust. Plumlee would be just as capable to do this at the second level.
Now we see McCaffrey split out to the left in the slot. Once again, just Stanford putting their best play maker in space against a less athletic defender. It’s simple really. Ole Miss could easily do this with Plumlee.
And if they really want to make people sick, they could put him on the left and Elijah Moore in the slot on the right.
Pick your poison.
Use other weapons to disguise what you’re doing with him.
I mentioned Elijah just now and I think that he is just as capable of being this sort of weapon for you. But, he is fine where he is in the slot because you have a guy like Plumlee to use in a variety of ways.
But, why not use them both to your advantage with some creative play calling?
Stanford did just that, putting Bryce Love and McCaffrey on the field at the same time. At the beginning of the gif, you see Love motion to the right of the formation, faking a jet sweep hand-off that was just enough to freeze the Notre Dame linebackers. This allowed for McCaffrey to get to the outside, break a tackle, and get the first down.
But, it was the motion and the threat of a quick hand-off to another speedy player that made this play possible.
Why not do something similar to this with Moore and Plumlee?
Plus, this would be fun, right?
You know you wanna.
As I said in the opening, this season is over, but this could be something to test out in these last three games with a now healthy Corral and a weapon like Plumlee that is arguably the best athlete on the field at all times, regardless of the opponent.
Give the offense a jolt of creativity and excitement and give this a whirl, Rich Rod.
You’ve got nothing to lose now.