A year after being a complete afterthought while Rich Rodriguez and John Rhys Plumlee were terrorizing people with the wishbone via the shotgun formation, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral has come into his own under new head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.
The Ventura, Calif., native was highly touted coming out of high school, rated as the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the 2018 class, and was thought to be well on his way to doing big things in Phil Longo’s offense.
And who could say that wasn’t true? The former top-100 player was at one time committed to Southern Cal and Florida and held notable Power 5 offers from Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Texas A&M and Oregon, among many others.
But, with the revolving door of coordinators in Oxford, Corral never got settled in and/or never really got a shot. After sustaining an injury against California in September 2019, Plumlee took over and the rest is history — until the Egg Bowl.
The guy (probably) most mad about the Elijah Moore incident? Matt Corral. Dude had his moment taken right from him. This fourth and 24 throw to keep the game alive was just crazy. pic.twitter.com/tNUr11YccV— Nick Niehaus (@nickniehausWAPT) November 29, 2019
The Ole Miss signal caller engineered a big boy, come-from-behind drive on the road in Starkville before the Rebels ultimately lost on a pissed point after attempt. The SEC was perhaps put on notice that Thanksgiving night; its teams just didn’t know it.
Fast forward to October 2020 and everyone knows Corral’s name. He has already thrown for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns, completing dimes at a rate of 76.9 percent. Ole Miss is fourth in the country in passing yards per game, and Corral sporting a ridiculous 212.8 passer rating. Corral has a 95.6 QBR, good enough for No. 1 in the nation.
He’s been among Pro Football Focus College’s top-five highest-graded quarterbacks in every week he’s played thus far and his other individual stats through three games are insanely staggering:
- 1st nationally in total offensive yards per game (407)
- 2nd in pass efficiency (210.7)
- 3rd in completion percentage (76.1)
- 3rd in yards per completion (16.1)
- 5th in passing yards per game (360)
- 6th in TD passes per game (3)
On top of all that, the Clarion-Ledger’s Nick Suss took it one step further to see just how good he’s been this season:
If you want context on how good Matt Corral has been through the first three games, here's how his first three games stack up against how the last five Heisman Trophy winning QBs have started their seasons. pic.twitter.com/gJvjkMfr8o— Nick Suss (@nicksuss) October 12, 2020
Sure there are seven games remaining in the 2020 season and, yeah, Ole Miss is most likely not going to win enough to get him in the conversation, but that stat line against the last five guys to hoist the statue is exciting, is it not?
And that’s against two bonafide College Football Playoff contenders.
To me, this resurgence has been two-fold: Corral’s raw ability to make plays with his NFL-level arm talent and the tutelage from Kiffin and Lebby. They are putting him in exceptional positions to make said plays with advantageous play-calling, game management, and utilization of the playmakers around him.
Second-and-22? Matt Corral don't care pic.twitter.com/XRICEfVyxe— Ben Garrett (@SpiritBen) October 11, 2020
Did I mention arm talent?
Corral here evades the pressure, rolls left, and throws against his body to an open Elijah Moore, sitting down in the soft spot of the Alabama zone. Sure, you’re taught not to do this, but when you have a damn bazooka attached to your shoulder, you’re afforded the privilege. No one else on the Ole Miss roster could’ve made this throw. And that’s not really a slight to the back-ups, Corral is just that good.
How good? Well, when the Rebels threw to the slot receiver on Saturday, they were a decent 13-for-13 for 208 yards and a touchdown.
Here, we have a remarkable set-up, pre-snap. Kiffin and Lebby draw up a scheme here to not only misdirect the eyes of the secondary, but they draw the safety over just enough with a crossing Jonathan Mingo to give Dontario Drummond a chance to take the top off and dirt this thing.
Corral climbs the pocket, puts the ball on the money, and Drummond does the rest. Again, great design by Lebby and perfect execution by Corral and the personnel on the field.
The coaching that Corral has received from both Kiffin and Lebby has been paramount and it was on display here in a 3rd-and-forever situation. Instead of continuing to look downfield and possibly force an ill-advised throw, he tucks it, gets north and south, and protects himself by sliding after collecting the necessary yards.
Corral knew the Gators were in man coverage and took advantage instead of forcing the issue.
In yet another brilliant design from Lebby, Corral and Ole Miss completely fooled damn near half the Alabama defense with this one. At the snap, Corral immediately looks to Moore in the slot who is simply floating for what everyone thought was a quick hitter. But, as the coverage and linebackers flow towards Moore, tight end Kenny Yeboah is dragging across behind them from the backside.
Corral looks off the backside safety, turns, and fires it to Yeboah, who takes it 68 yards to the house.
Lastly, we see, again, magnificent play design and execution. Corral is patient and lets the play develop in both instances here. The first play, he fakes the handoff, looks at a swinging Moore before hitting a seam-splitting Yeboah over the middle for a huge gain to get into the red zone.
Then, Ole Miss gets right up to the line and without hesitation, runs the same pop pass scheme it ran in Lexington to perfection. Corral fakes the quarterback power, lets Yeboah clear the line of scrimmage and the linebackers, who all think it’s a run, and lobs it over everyone for the game’s first score.
The offense has been elite these first three weeks and a lot of the credit goes to how well Corral has commanded the offense and taken what the defenses have given him. Per PFF, Ole Miss is the 3rd most efficient offense in the country. He has eight “big-time” throws per their metrics and has yet to have a single turnover-worthy play in 2020.
All that to say he’s played well enough to be in the same conversation as Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Alabama’s Mac Jones and Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler. Not too shabby.
As the Rebels hit the road again this week, I am of the opinion that it is a must-win if Ole Miss wants to stay on schedule in “Year 1” of the Kiffin Era. And if they continue to get quarterback play like we’ve seen thus far, it’s going to be a hell of an inaugural ride on the Lane Train.