Ole Miss took care of business against inferior competition on Saturday, blowing out New Mexico State 41-3, but the biggest story on the field still lies with the two quarterbacks sharing time behind the center for the Rebels.
John Rhys Plumlee rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns, passed for 124 yards and took most of the snaps at quarterback for Ole Miss. The first time Matt Corral was seen in the game was late in the third quarter, and he attempted only two passes.
What was supposed to be a two-quarterback system with both Plumlee and Corral has since evolved into a system essentially employing Plumlee as the lone signal caller. Corral only attempted two passes in the victory.
“Today was a little bit different just because we were running it so much, but we have two starting quarterbacks in my mind — two very capable guys,” offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez said. “I’ve got 100% confidence in (Corral), and I told him we’re going to need him going forward. That part hasn’t changed.”
Head coach Matt Luke also said Corral has a role on the team despite his limited playing time in the system.
“I think coming down the stretch we’ll need Matt (Corral),” he said. “Matt is a weapon, and we could use him, so I think we’ll need him at some point to help us win the next two games.”
Corral was not made available after the game on Saturday.
The quarterback room full of freshmen already had its first departure last week after Grant Tisdale entered the transfer portal due to limited playing time and Ole Miss fans are concerned Corral could do the same if he’s held on the bench for the majority of the final two games.
Rodriguez’s system with Plumlee at quarterback could also affect how Ole Miss recruits offensive talent in the years to come.
Ole Miss still struggles to pass against legitimate defensive competition, and, despite his performance on Saturday, one has to wonder if Plumlee can take this team to its ceiling if he remains the quarterback through the Egg Bowl and into next year.
The Rebels rushed for 447 yards, compared to 159 passing against New Mexico State. Time has shown that this form of one-dimensional play isn’t sustainable in the SEC, but it appears that Ole Miss will stick with the quarterback whose primary skill set is on the ground.
It is also very unlikely that Ole Miss will reach its preseason goal of six wins anyway, needing to beat both LSU (which knocked off Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday) and Mississippi State to secure that status. If the Rebels hope to reach the postseason this year, they will likely need to finish 5-7 and gain an Academic Progress Rate (APR) bid, which are awarded to a handful of 5-7 teams each season.
The only SEC teams ahead of Ole Miss in APR are already-bowl eligible Alabama and Auburn and two-win Vanderbilt and Arkansas, both of which are eliminated from bowl contention. In theory, if there is an APR bid to be had among SEC teams, Ole Miss could get it.
Still, Ole Miss will be supremely outmatched next week against an LSU squad eyeing an SEC West title and a spot in the College Football Playoff, but it should have a chance to be competitive against Mississippi State in Starkville on Thanksgiving. Neither Ole Miss nor State have been particularly impressive this season, and if Ole Miss can come away with a win, the Rebels may have a chance to sneak into the postseason.
In fact, the 2016 Egg Bowl saw a similar scenario. That game featured a four-win Mississippi State team and a five-win Ole Miss team, a game which the Bulldogs won on the legs of a running quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald. The two teams finished the year at 5-7, but Mississippi State earned a bowl bid because of their high APR.
This season obviously has not unfolded the way that Ole Miss fans would have hoped, but time will tell if John Rhys Plumlee can lead Ole Miss to a strong finish and perhaps a bowl bid, or if the team’s lack of a passing attack will warrant Corral’s return or affect the future of the program’s recruitment.