Matt Luke says he does not know who will start at quarterback when Ole Miss hosts Vanderbilt at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday evening.
Both redshirt freshman Matt Corral and true freshman John Rhys Plumlee took reps with the first team offense at practice on Wednesday. The uncertainty at this position was bred by Corral missing last week’s game against Alabama with a rib injury he suffered in the fourth quarter of the Rebels’ home loss to Cal two weeks ago. Plumlee ignited a dormant offense in relief of Corral and came up a yard short of a potential 90-yard, game-tying touchdown drive in the loss to the Bears. Plumlee acquitted himself well in his first start against the Crimson Tide. He went 10-of-28 for 142 yards with two touchdowns and an interruption. Plumlee ran the football 25 times for 109 yards and a score.
The performance was enough for Luke and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez to balk on cementing corral as the starter upon his return from the rib ailment. The two are very much treating it like an open quarterback competition.
“I thought they all looked good,” Luke said. “We are fortunate we have good players there. I don’t know who is going to start yet.”
True freshman Grant Tisdale also took a handful of first-team reps, according to Luke. Tisdale is the odd man out in what has become a two-horse race for the starting quarterback job. His only game action came on the final series in Tuscaloosa, long after the game became a farce. Tisdale went 2-of-2 for 56 yards, led a 75-yard touchdown drive and made a strong throw to Jadon Jackson for the late score. How Tisdale factors into this quarterback competition going forward remains unclear.
Luke said on Wednesday that both Corral and Plumlee will play against the Commodores, but did not specific in what capacity. The conundrum this staff finds itself in with regards to making a decision is that Plumlee flashed dynamic quickness against the Crimson Tide. What he is able to do with his feet makes him an enticing option in Rodriguez’s run-heavy system that prefers to make the quarterback a focal point of the rushing attack. Of course, Plumlee’s 10-of-28 mark through the air will not suffice in the Southeastern Conference and it is clear Corral is a more polished passer.
Rodriguez has remained tight-lipped with regards to how he will handle this situation.
“He obviously has some dynamic running skills so we ran him more than we did with Matt previously,” he said on Monday. “I have to manage all three quarterbacks, see who is healthy and look at how Vanderbilt is going to play us. Beyond that, see you Saturday.”
Corral was anointed the next in line at the quarterback throne this past offseason. Ole Miss took him to SEC Media Days in July as a freshman, a move that bucks the trend of schools primarily taking upperclassmen. He was an integral piece to Luke’s first signing class in 2017 and his commitment to the Rebels was a shot in the arm and a momentum boost for a program in dire need of positive press. But it would be hard to deny that Plumlee’s feet add a dimension to the offense that Corral cannot. Both will play on Saturday, but will one distance himself from the other?
“I think the attitude of the entire team and offense has been good,” Luke said. “We are excited about this opportunity.”
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