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Ole Miss football 2021 preview: It’s Matt Corral’s world. We’re all just living in it

No better time than now.

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News Gary Cosby Jr. via Imagn Content Services, LLC

In Lane Kiffin’s first year as head coach at Ole Miss, the Rebels finished 5-5 and defeated the 11th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers in the Outback Bowl.

Much of that success was attributed to redshirt junior quarterback Matt Corral. The Ventura, Calif. native, albeit with two weeks of struggles, absolutely shredded opponents in 2020, leading the National Collegiate Athletic Association in total offense per game (384.9 yards). And yes, he managed to still do that with the Arkansas and LSU losses.

So, yeah, the dude can absolute go.

Now, fast forward to 2021 and Corral is generating a ton of NFL Draft buzz entering year two under Kiffin and Lebby, a first for the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder who has yet in his college career been able to be in the same offense two consecutive years. Several NFL scouts are even starting to say that Corral could see a rise up draft boards like former BYU quarterback and current New York Jets’ signal caller, Zach Wilson, saw after his big 2020 season for the Cougars.

If Corral has the 2021 that everyone expects him to, Ole Miss could very well be a media darling by November and potentially get into an access bowl again. With that said, let’s take a look at what he needs to do to have that type of season.

Proof is in the proverbial pudding.

The Corral and Kiffin relationship got off to a blistering start a year ago. Corral finished in the top-10 in Football Bowl Subdivision rankings in passing yards per game (333.7 yards), touchdowns (29), completion percentage (71 percent), and passing efficiency (177.6). Maybe even more impressive than that collection of statistics was that his eight completions of 40+ yards led the Southeastern Conference.

As you can see, he excels with the deep ball and has tremendous accuracy downfield. One thing he has to be better at, and I am 1000 percent positive that Corral would say this too, he has to better about moving through his progressions and taking what the defense gives him. Obviously, he tried to do a little too much against Arkansas and LSU. But, as the season went on, especially in the Outback Bowl win, he was much more methodical with going through his reads and checking down.

Where Corral excels outside of the deep ball is his ability to move comfortably around the pocket. Quarterbacks who play at the next level and do it at a high level can find the perfect mix of slowly moving fast. By that I mean that he can process things quickly while being patient.

NFL Scout Daniel Jeremiah scouted some game tape of Corral from 2020 and seems to share a similar sentiment:

Corral has a very intriguing skill set. He’s an excellent athlete and a versatile thrower. He’s capable of driving the ball into small windows, layering the ball over linebackers/under safeties and dropping the deep ball into the bucket. His overall touch is outstanding. He has tremendous quickness and awareness inside the pocket to avoid the free rusher. He is effective on designed QB runs because of his suddenness and ability to elude defenders. He is very competitive to fight for extra yards.

If Corral can continue to be smart with the football and stay with the status quo with his impressive ability to test defenses deep, Ole Miss should be incredibly dangerous in 2021.

Don’t sleep on his mobility.

Last year, Corral ran for 506 yards and four touchdowns. He was as big a weapon in the run game as returning running backs Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy that helped the Rebels lead the conference in rushing yards per game.

Corral has always done a really good job of using the talent around him in the backfield to manipulate defenses and open up running lanes for himself that others don’t have the ability to do.

Red zone struggles have almost become an identity with Ole Miss football over the last decade, but in 2020, Corral’s legs were a huge weapon for Kiffin and Lebby. Despite being a more than capable runner and a really good athlete, defenses have to honor the running back handoff in the zone read concepts. If you fall asleep or are a step too late, Corral has the ability to hurt you.

Here, under center, Corral completely fools LSU’s second level and the weak-side defensive end. Even though he ran into the official, he strolled into the paint for six points and it all started with the ball fake to the running back.

Corral told reporters at SEC Media Days that he and Kiffin have discussed being smarter running the football and knowing when to tuck it and go and when to get down, but Corral is such a competitor I find it hard to believe that he won’t get out in space and move the chains with his legs if the play breaks down.

Corral has the best arm in the 2021 NFL Draft.

There’s a lot to like when you see Corral throw the football. Whether it’s flat-footed at the 50-yard line, throwing it through the uprights in pregame warmups, throwing a seam route 35-yards on a rope, or scrambling to create space and throwing against his body to move the chains.

He can do it all.

Most of the time, this is a “NO NO NO, yes!” type throw, but when you can spin it like Corral can, you take this shot against the national champions.

Anticipation and accuracy are two things that you simply cannot teach. And if you plan on playing football professionally, you have to be able to do that well. Corral showed in 2020 that that is something he has no issue with.

If there’s anything else that NFL Draft scouts value, it’s deep ball accuracy. The professional game is evolving every single day and more and more offenses are going vertical. Corral had a few throws in 2020 that simply cannot be replicated.

Just dropped it right in the bucket here. Brutal L for the defensive back who was in great position.

Here, in a driving rainstorm, Corral puts it on the money to Braylon Sanders to extend Ole Miss’ lead. Not only is this a fantastic throw, but it was coming off an abysmal start to the game where Corral had several turnovers that put Ole Miss in an early hole.

Lastly, here we see Corral step up into the pocket and deliver a perfectly-placed football to Dontario Drummond. Sure, he steps into the throw and delivers it where only his guy can catch it, but the touch on the ball was next level. NFL Scouts rave about his ability to not only hurl a football deep, but several scouts call his touch “outstanding”.

It’s certainly no stretch to say that the Rebels’ success in 2021 hinges on Corral’s play, but he is certainly good enough to be just “pretty good” and the offense can churn without skipping much of a beat because of the returning offensive line and running back talent.

Elijah Moore is gone and Kenny Yeboah isn’t lining up at tight end, but the weapons are still there and the California quarterback seems as hungry as ever to prove the haters wrong when the season kicks off in Atlanta Labor Day weekend.