OXFORD, Miss. – In each of the last two years, following an injury to the team’s starter, the Ole Miss football team has needed to rely on a backup quarterback to finish the season.
In 2016, quarterback Chad Kelly suffered a season-ending tear to both his anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus in his knee in the Rebels’ 37-27 win over Georgia Southern.
From there, then-freshman Shea Patterson was called upon to take over the offense and finish out Ole Miss’ final three games of the season. He led the Rebels to a 29-28 victory at then-No. 8 Texas A&M in his first start, before later dropping the final two games of the year on the road at Vanderbilt and at home against State.
In 2017, Patterson, too, suffered an injury, tearing his posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the first half of Ole Miss’ 40-24 loss to LSU.
Ta’amu answers the call
Following Patterson’s injury, newcomer and JUCO transfer quarterback Jordan Ta’amu stepped in and took over the signal-caller position. He proceeded to rally the offense and lead the Rebels to a 3-2 record in the team’s final five games of the season—including a 31-28 win over the Bulldogs in Starkville.
Entering the 2018-19 season, Ta’amu is the Rebels’ starting quarterback—but offensive coordinator Phil Longo is making sure the Rebels have a capable backup in case of an injury to Ta’amu.
And that’s where freshman Matt Corral steps in.
Corral: one of the nation’s top QBs in 2018 class
In Corral, Coach Luke and his staff have one of the top quarterbacks in the nation from the 2018 class. The former four-star recruit accounted for 11,000 yards and 123 touchdowns as a four-year starter at Long Beach Poly and Oaks Christian School.
The up-tempo offense Coach Longo has implemented at Ole Miss is very similar to the offense Corral ran at Long Beach Poly, where Corral threw for 2,495 yards and 29 touchdowns during his senior season.
As an early enrollee, Corral arrived in January and quickly made the most of his time on campus.
“After those first few weeks, (I) started getting into the groove of things,” Corral said.
“(I) Started to learn the playbook and get into film when I’m supposed to, and doing the extra stuff the coaches were asking so I could get the possibility to get on the field my freshman year.”
Ole Miss freshman QB Matt Corral
Corral, who at Ole Miss has the benefit of the best receiving corps in the SEC, if not the nation, smiled when asked about the “nasty wideouts,” as the Rebels’ star receivers are called.
“It’s ridiculous. The first week I was out there, really just seven-on-seven — when the players called it, my balls were a little off because I am not used to how big they are and how fast they are,” Corral said of players like A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge, and D.K. Metcalf.
“That close-quarter speed they got when the ball is in the air is something I had to adjust to. It wasn’t hard.”
And thanks to Ta’amu, who has acted like a big brother to Corral, learning the offense hasn’t been as complicated for the freshman as it might have been.
“He’s not hard on the younger guys about little stuff,” the former Florida commit said about Ta’amu.
“Because, you know, you come in—you’re a little freshman, and he’s an upperclassman. (But) that type of thing doesn’t happen here. Everybody showed love, like just support and helping me to understand the offense. Jordan was the main one to help me on that.”
Matt Corral on help he’s received from Jordan Ta’amu
Speed of the game
Throughout spring camp, Corral has concentrated on making quicker decisions, reflective of the speed in the SEC.
“Really night and day,” Coach Luke answered when he was asked about Corral’s progress in spring training.
“After eight or nine practices you can see all those freshmen, the light bulb starts to go off a little bit. I think the knowledge is definitely increasing.”
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke on progression of Matt Corral and freshmen
Although Corral wasn’t on campus to see the unfortunate injuries to Kelly and Patterson, he realizes the importance of being a prepared backup quarterback and feels he would be ready if his number was called.
“I honestly feel comfortable. I don’t feel any pressure,” Corral said.
“Let’s say I was starting the first game, I wouldn’t take it any differently if I wasn’t. I feel like I will be prepared, and I know the guys behind me will have my back, help me gain that confidence that they think I can get.”
(Matt Corral, Video credit: Courtney Smith, The Rebel Walk)