This Saturday, the Rebels from Mississippi travel to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to square off against the Crimson Tide.
It’s a clash between two unbeaten teams in the SEC West, which is just about the hottest and most talented division in college football right now and it will also be a clash between the two current Heisman Trophy favourites – Bryce Young of Alabama and Matt Corral of Ole Miss.
This will be one of the hottest matchups of the college football season so far, because there is just so much to play for. The SEC looks like it’s very, very strong at the top, with Georgia and to a lesser degree Kentucky and Florida looking strong in the East with Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss still unbeaten in the West. With teams so closely matched one loss could change the complexion of the division or conference for the rest of the season… Just ask Texas A&M fans.
Away from the team matchups this is also a fantastic QB clash, with Young and Corral being two of the best so far this season.
For my money, Bryce Young has been incredible so far this year, especially for a player who is so inexperienced, and we only have to look towards Clemson to see that being an elite, blue-blood programme doesn’t automatically insulate a young passer from the harsh realities of being a starting college quarterback.
However, I am here to talk about Matt Corral, who has also been fantastic this season but I do think that the talk of QB and the talk of taking home the Heisman is a little premature.
Is Corral having a good season so far? Yes.
Is he making some nice throws? He is.
Is he being productive through the air and on the ground? Absolutely.
So why am I putting fingers to keyboard and asking whether it’s time to pump the brakes on Corral as a prospect?
Because I think everyone, fans and media alike are wishing for there to be a fast rising QB in the style of someone like Joe Burrow. I also feel like the media, fans and draftniks are looking for a savior for the QB class, because so far the draft class looks a little underwhelming at the top. Plus, everybody wants to find the guy earlier than everybody else and there’s always that flag planting process and subsequent bandwagon jumping.
I said it on his week’s college football podcast, this is a huge game on Saturday for Matt Corral, and it’s a huge game for Ole Miss… The Rebels have a tough SEC schedule to negotiate. If they are truly going to make some serious noise this year, and move towards a College Football Playoff bid, they need to win games like this one. The other side of that coin also says that if Matt Corral is going to be QB1, he needs to put on a show on the road against the number 1 team in college football.
Firstly before we get into the reasons why I think we need to slow down, let’s look at the good points.
Matt Corral has ridiculous arm talent. That’s plain for all to see.
He gets zip on his throws, the ball can jump out of his hand with great velocity, he can be really accurate over short and intermediate distances and he can chuck it deep too. I feel like I see a QB with a nice release whose accuracy and mixture of pace has gotten better as bite has gone on – Corral has realised that not everything needs to be a fast ball, and he’s also placing the ball better and making it easier for his receivers to catch the ball.
This has led to Corral having a really high completion percentage and that is even with the loss of star receiver Elijah Moore to the NFL, it’s also led to less interceptions so far this season, of which so far this year, Corral hasn’t yet thrown the ball to the wrong team.
The clip above shows that ball placement – There’s still a good amount of zip on that ball but it’s placed in a tight window over the corner but in front of the safety. As a Chargers fan, this is the kind of ball I see Justin Herbert throw each week.
Through three games this season I also see Matt Corral just about as comfortable as any QB in college football at the moment. I think he really enjoys playing in Lane Kiffin’s offense, which is a pretty fun offense and allows him to show some natural flair, both as a runner and a passer, and execute some fun plays – And everyone plays better when they’re comfortable and having fun.
The clip below shows a little bit of that and it also shows that deep ball accuracy, it also shows a little bit of an understanding of the theatre of playing QB, with the pump fake. When he gets into the NFL, it’ll be important for him to realise his power to manipulate defenses with his eyes and body language.
Corral drops the ball into the receivers hands right in stride. Again, we can see the arm talent – good ball velocity but it doesn’t look like Corral needs to extend his wind up to generate extra power to get the ball deep downfield.
Lastly, there is also an undeniable upside linked to Corall’s athletic ability. The Ole Miss QB is both slippery in the pocket allowing him to duck and dive oncoming rushers but he’s also a weapon with his legs having racked up over 500 yards on the ground last season, and this year Corral is averaging 11 carries a game, he’s already gone over 150 yards and he’s found the endzone 5 times.
This is an example of one run, which I think epitomises both the good and the bad of Corral with ball in hand. Perhaps that will lead me into the bad and why we need to pump the brakes but for the moment, I want to appreciate the way he glides over the turf and leaves defenders in his wake. Corral isn’t the biggest QB, he’s 6’1 and a little over 200lbs, so we’re not talking about a Cam Newton or Josh Allen style bulldozer, and he uses his agility and finesse to his advantage, but again, this can be a blessing and a curse… With that let me head into the reasons that give me pause when it comes to Matt Corral.
Where People Need to Slow Down
First things first, I want to put it out there that I am not a bad player or a bad quarterback, he’s not.
After all, he’s a 4-star prospect out of Southern California, a hotbed of football talent, who is playing for a big-time SEC programme. He’s got the talent, he’s got the swag and he’s got the pedigree to be an NFL Player.
He just needs to give me more, I’m just not there with it yet and I don’t think anyone should be yet.
Firstly, I’ll pick up where I left off… His rushing ability is great but at his size is it sustainable if he continues to play with reckless abandon, like he’s 4 inches taller and 35 pounds heavier?
Any quarterback’s best attribute, especially when they’re an NFL starter, is availability and being on the field. There aren’t enough good backups in the league that teams can still win multiple games with their clipboard holder throwing passes.
I’m not falling into the trap of saying a rushing style means he is doomed to a major injury because that’s just simply not a done deal and a completely positive correlation, but he certainly puts himself in harm’s way more often than I would like. This is all well and good against college defenders but in the NFL then it does become a roll of the dice where the odds are stacked a little more in the defender’s favour.
Secondly, let’s turn our attention back towards Corral as a QB. Let’s talk about decision making and ball security first up.
What I will say is that outside of a couple of games last year, LSU and Arkansas, Corral hasn’t thrown an abundance of picks. However, what these two games do point us towards is that once things start to go south, is there a tendency to allow the game to get away from him? Does he get scrambled and lose composure?
We’ve seen it with QBs in the NFL like Jameis Winston – Once he throws one, he throws another and continues to give the defense a chance.
In the NFL, defenders are smarter, throwing windows are tighter and the pressure is well and truly on. Defense in the NFL is all about bending but not breaking and being opportunistic and getting turnovers at any chance you get.
In the LSU and Arkansas games he threw 5 and 6 interceptions respectively and also fumbled once in each game – 13 turnovers in two games. That’s simply unacceptable.
Ok, it is just two games but they do set alarm bells off – I really want to see Corral continue to play clean football this season just as he has done so far.
I want to show you a couple of failures in ball security from these games before I move on;
This is Corral’s first INT from the LSU game in 2020 – He’s starting the play on the left hash and attempting a long pass to the right side of the field.
As discussed in the first half of the article, Corral has the arm strength and ball velocity to make this throw but peek his head and eye movement from the second endzone view – He stares down his receiver the whole time and tips off the defensive back to this throw.
Perhaps it’s careless eyes, but also another alarming possibility is that he trusts his arm too much, which will lead on to my next point.
I mentioned earlier that Corral has shown some understanding of the theatre of playing QB, but this slip also shows he has a way to go yet before mastery.
Next, I want to show you just a silly decision where I do believe Corral just thinks he can get by on his arm talent alone, that or he’s just not seeing the field and therefore I’d question his field vision. This one is from the Arkansas game;
This is quite clearly a throw into double coverage. The corner intercepts having played trail technique with the safety putting a roof on the coverage over the top.
The corner gets the pick but even if he wasn’t there and the receiver makes the catch, the safety is going to obliterate the receiver with a well-timed, legal hit to the ribs. So not only is it a poor decision and a badly thrown ball, this one is also a hospital pass.
As mentioned, I am focusing on two games because they are the two worst games of his career so far, and they are outliers at this point. I just look at Ole Miss’s schedule the rest of the way this season and see potential for these types of games to reoccur – Which is what gives me pause… In the words of Patrick Mahomes, “I’ll see it when I believe it” at this point.
The schedule actually brings me on to my next point and one I raised on this week’s pod; Ole Miss has played nobody yet this year. I’m not buying into victories against a Louisville team who gave up a lot of points, a win over Austin Peay and Tulane.
I just need to see a bigger sample size and greater body of work when it comes to high quality quarterback play for four quarters, week in and week out against top opponents – That is what it takes to be the number one draft selection and a Heisman Trophy winner.
Lastly, I want to touch upon a problem which a lot of mobile QBs can have, and that’s problems with pocket awareness and their internal clock. Sometimes because a QB can escape trouble and outrun 300lbs defensive linemen, they think that once they maneuver around one guy that’s it, or they are looking downfield and aren’t aware of what’s around them – This isn’t limited to just mobile QBs but also inexperienced ones whose internal clock is not fully formed and switched on.
Here’s a couple of examples which I see a fair bit on Corral’s tape;
A great ability to slide around the pocket but lacking the peripheral vision and awareness to realise that you guy he just made miss isn’t the only danger. This means fumbles can occur as it did here.
And Finally, being sacked because your eyes are downfield on 1st & 10, when facing a three man rush is just pretty egregious to me.
There’s no excuse situationally, or that he got blindsided here. Just got hit in the face by a defender who has come from right in front of him… It just shows a little deficit in pocket awareness, which needs cleaning up, especially before Saturday because we know a Nick Saban defense can throw out some pretty funky blitzes and pressure packages. If you struggle with the simple stuff then Saturday could be a long one, albeit a saving grace could be that this year’s is not a vintage Alabama defensive line.
I want to begin the conclusion by reiterating that Matt Corral is a great prospect and quarterback who has started the season on fire and deserves the praise that he’s been getting.
I hope I was balanced in this evaluation – If I have not been balanced, I am sure someone will let me know.
I think this game on Saturday will be one to savour and it’s an unbelievable opportunity for Ole Miss, Lane Kiffin and Matt Corral to really show something here against a behemoth programme and one who look like they are going all the way again this year in Alabama.
I want to stress that I don’t think it’s all over for Corral if he plays poorly or if Ole Miss lose on Saturday, but what I did want to do is highlight the imperfections in his game and aspects that are holding me back from anointing him the best QB in college football at the moment.
What I will say is that if this game on Saturday isn’t between the best two, it’s certainly between two of the top 5 and no matter the result, it’s going to be really interesting to see how the rest of the draft process goes for Corral.
The sky’s the limit but the floor is also being a firm day 2 selection – Food for thought, at the very least.
Follow Lee on Twitter – @Wakefield90