• 68°

Freshman Matt Corral ready to take reins as Ole Miss’ next QB

By Nathanael Gabler
The Oxford Eagle

HOOVER, Ala. — Despite losing 2018’s starting quarterback Jordan Ta’amu to graduation, Ole Miss never really had a quarterback competition or controversy.

From the minute the 2018 season ended, Matt Corral was the future of the position.

When Ole Miss was settling on three players to bring to SEC Media Days last week, the fact that Corral was a freshman wasn’t much of a factor. Not only was he the only freshman in Hoover, he was the only underclassman, period. But head coach Matt Luke doesn’t seem to care about that — Corral is a leader.

“He was forced into that leadership role and he did a great job with it. I think his competitive nature and his fire and the way people gravitate toward him made him an obvious choice to bring,” Luke said. “As a former player, you want to be around guys that have that energy and that fire and that toughness, especially at that position.

Ole Miss very well might have the youngest quarterback room in the entire nation. Corral has played in four games, never started, and has attempted just 22 passes in his career. The Rebels have three other quarterbacks on scholarship, all of whom are true freshmen.

Really the only difference separating Corral and the three freshmen — Grant Tisdale, Kinkead Dent and John Rhys Plumlee — is four games. A year in the Ole Miss system surely helps to a degree, but it’s a completely different system now than it was in 2018. What made Corral the clear choice to start is game experience at the college level — especially in the Southeastern Conference — that the others can’t have until they’ve been there.

“Of course the younger guys look to me, the guy that just got here,” Corral said. “But we’re all in this thing together. We’re a unit and we’re only as strong as our weakest link. Right now we’re all on the same page. If I were to get hurt right now, I’d have a good amount of confidence in any of those kids filling in. They’re right there, it’s just them having the confidence to go out there and do it.”

Luke and Co. have full faith in Corral. There’s no wavering, no uncertainty and no question marks — Corral is the guy. The decision to bring him to Media Days as a freshman shows how much confidence the staff has in him, both as a player and a person.

But it’s not just the staff. Corral might be 20 years old and a freshman, but he’s already earned the respect of seniors.

“I’m really excited about Matt. He’s stepped up as a leader this spring,” senior offensive lineman Alex Givens said. “As you’ve seen, he’s a really feisty player, which you love to see as an offensive lineman. He fits in with Rich Rod’s offense. Very athletic. He can run and make good decisions and he can throw the ball. We’re super excited to have him in the huddle and be a voice for us and a leader at such a young age.”

The Ole Miss staff believes Corral can make every throw needed in the Rich Rodriguez-led offense. Corral himself likened it to the offense he played in during high school.

If that’s at all true, it’s really good news for Ole Miss. Corral threw for more than 11,000 yards and 123 touchdowns while starting all four years at Long Beach Poly and Oaks Christian in California.

He might not be the most athletic runner on the team, but he’s more than fast enough to handle what Rodriguez wants him to do. That said, Corral learned quickly that he might not be able to simply run around some guys like he did not long ago when he was playing high school football.

“It’s not necessarily faster, but you just have to think faster,” Corral said. “The SEC West is the closest step to the NFL. Alabama’s linemen, Georgia’s linemen, South Carolina’s linemen, those guys run just as fast as me and they’re twice as big as me. It’s knowing your playbook and knowing your reads and knowing what to do with the ball when they give you something you don’t expect.”

In his four games last year, Corral’s numbers were good. He completed 16 of 22 passes for 239 yards, and ran for 83 yards. He scored four touchdowns and was intercepted just once. Corral got SEC experience by playing much of the season-ending loss to Mississippi State after Ta’amu was injured, and saw time against Southern Illinois, Louisiana-Monroe and South Carolina.

Now, Corral ushers in a new era of Ole Miss football. There are new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Ole Miss no longer faces scholarship reductions or postseason bans. A lot will be expected of Corral. Fair or not, a lot of the successes or failures in 2019 will fall on the shoulders of the young freshman.

“He was able to get those four games under his belt, and you can really see that in the spring. It really separated himself from the other quarterbacks,” Luke said. “Matt’s a very, very talented guy. He can make all of the throws. He can throw off platform. He’s accurate from a bunch of different odd angles. He’s got escapability in the pocket, and then all of the intangibles with the toughness that we’ve already talked about. So I think the combination of all of that made him the choice.”