OXFORD — Even in the limited action Matt Corral saw in 2018 when he served as Jordan Ta’amu’s understudy, it was evident he’d developed a rapport with fellow 2018 signing classmate Elijah Moore.
The 5-foot-9, 184 pound receiver was a late addition to the 2018 class. Moore flipped from Georgia to Ole Miss a few days before signing day. In his freshman campaign, Moore cracked a star-studded receiver rotation and tallied 36 catches for 398 yards and two touchdowns. The writing was on the wall, hinting at who would become Corral’s most trusted target and the face of a receiving corps that lost the likes of A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and Damarkus Lodge.
Moore had a coming out part of sorts in Ole Miss’ 31-17 win over Arkansas on Saturday night. Moore caught seven balls for 130 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first — and likely far from the last — multi-touchdown game of his career.
“He made some big plays,” head coach Matt Luke said. “On the biggest play of the game he beat his man on Cover One and took it to the end zone. He’s just a sophomore. And he’s one of the leaders. He’ll continue to get better and move into the leadership role. “
The play Luke is referring to is the 46-yard touchdown reception the speedy slot receiver hauled in midway through the fourth quarter. It came at a crucial time. Ole Miss had just turned the football over for the second time in the three drives. Arkansas ran an Octavious Cooley fumble back 73 yards for a touchdown, shaving Ole Miss’ lead to 17-10. Given the recent history of this series between these two programs, the gaffe seemingly left the door wide open for Arkansas despite its quarterback uncertainty and offensive dysfunction. The Rebels needed a response and Moore provided one by burning his man, getting to the second level and blowing by the pursuing defenders.
The leadership role Luke alluded to is one Moore thinks he was built for. He believes this has long been his calling. Braylon Sanders is the most established wide receiver of the group. He was a spectator on this evening as he dealt with a hamstring issue that confined him to the sideline, watching the game in gym shorts. Moore was the only receiver on the field with a healthy amount of experience. He knew he had to elevate his game.
“I am ready for it,” Moore said. “I am ready for positions like this. People have to step up. It’s like last year when D.K. went down, someone had to step up. I know I am going to have a big role in this offense. I feel like we did what we were supposed to do.”
Saturday was the coronation of the chemistry Corral and Moore have been building since last season, in which it was only seen in a limited capacity within the four-game threshold that would allow Corral to attain a redshirt, when games were firmly in hand and the stadium was sparsely populated.
“We’ve done a good job of staying on the same page,” Corral said. “I cannot stress that enough. He stepped up.”
Arkansas had no answer for Moore in the slot. A lowly Razorback secondary offered little resistance. Moore is crucial crutch for Corral. With the Rebels’ shaky offensive line and limited experience at receiver, the sophomore offers an opportunity for Corral to get the football out of his hand quickly. Getting the ball to Moore quickly in space means less work for Corral. Moore hardly minds. His sure-handedness is easy for Corral to trust. His speed makes him difficult to bring down.
“He is the most dynamic receiver we have,” offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez said. “From week one to week two, you can see the improvement he made. I think that will continue. He will keep getting better.”
Uncertainty looms behind Moore. There is little experience, aside from Sanders of course. Dontario Drummond made a couple grabs early. He was the only other receiver to catch a ball besides Moore. Redshirt freshmen Demarcus Gregory and Miles battle have yet to hit their stride, making Moore’s services even more invaluable and his presence on the field all the more impactful.
After a frustrating opening-week loss, the offense made strides toward improvement. Corral was 16-of-24 for 246 yards and the two scores to Moore. The offense compiled 483 yards of offense. Moore and Corral aren’t satisfied though.
“We have a lot to improve on,” Corral said. “We have to get better at the little things.”
Moore agrees and thinks his relationship with Corral will only get stronger.
“We never wanted to have that feeling from last week again,” Moore said. “As the weeks go by, we are going to keep clicking.”
PHOTO CREDIT: JOSHUA MCCOY — OLE MISS ATHLETICS