There is a calm with Matt Corral.
It doesn’t mean there is a filter with his attitude, competitiveness, or his vocal ability towards teammates as a leader, though. Think of it as a maturity or an indication that -- even without head coach Lane Kiffin on the field -- the Ole Miss quarterback has evolved to his top collegiate form.
At least that's how Monday night's cruise-control victory over Louisville, a 43-24 result that was hardly in doubt, appeared from afar. The California native led the Rebels down the field for an 11-play, 94-yard opening drive that would result in a trip to the end zone, and the rest of college football was immediately put on notice.
Corral would play efficient, yet productive, football all evening long in Atlanta, finishing with 381 passing yards, as well as 55 more on the ground with a score to his name as both a passer and rusher. Most importantly relative to 2020, he did so with command and without turning the ball over.
The official line was 22 for 32, 381 yards, 1 touchdown; 12 rushes, 55 yards, 1 touchdown. The numerical rating for the face of Rebel football sat at a staggering 179.1.
Growth goes well beyond the numbers when tracking the game's most important position, so The Grove Report charted every throw and decision the fourth-year QB put on tape. More specifically, we looked at every situation, progression and level No. 2 moved towards on the national stage.
Efficiency was also a measure of consistency through the chart itself.
|By Progression||By Level||By Down|
1st Read/Design - 9/14
1 (1-10 yards) - 9/14
1st/2nd Down - 19/27
2nd Read - 11/13
2 (11-20 yards) - 8/12
3rd Down - 2/4
3rd Read - 4/5
3 (20+ yards)- 1/2
4th Down - 1/1
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Naturally, throws to the primary read or by design to a primary read are done so with efficiency in mind. This also overlaps with the plays that are 100% on Corral's shoulders -- the RPO (run-pass option). Not only should the two-thirds clip in these situations be celebrated from a completion percentage, but the quick trigger in which he made the decisions and executed throws was especially impressive. It littered the first drive of the game and kept the Louisville defense off balance for good. It also encompasses the extensions of the running game, quick hitters like bubble screens, and even hot reads against the blitz.
When he pulled the ball, reading the edge defender correctly nearly every time the play was called, Corral ran closer to what Kiffin, Jeff Lebby, and the offensive staff would like. He was sharp and didn't take too much unnecessary punishment along the way. A good athlete who can keep a defense honest, the Rebel leader was aggressive near the goal line and/or first down markers, but shut it down underneath as defenders drew in, even on the 4th down in which he drew a targeting call early on thanks to his cat-quick slide technique.
What made Corral's night more impressive to watch, as the chart indicates, is that he was even better when moving off of his primary read as a passer, going a combined 15 for 18 when rolling through secondary progressions. The mark is both an indicator of the game plan as well as the offensive line's execution. Even without a true quarterback drop, at times, there was little pressure to consider as he navigated coverage and where the ball needed to be. It won't be the case throughout 2021, especially with the SEC schedule ahead, but it made for an ease into the offensive possibilities, something likely not considered against a Power 5 opponent.
The combination of time, from a protection standpoint, and timing from a throw velocity and accuracy perspective each came together late in the second quarter. Corral's best ball was on a high-low situation, trusting the route from Dontario Drummond along the sidelines against zone coverage commonly designed to keep play in bounds nearing the end of the half. He looked off the front-side safety, causing the backside deep man to drift just ahead of coming to that side and riffling a ball behind the underneath cornerback and in front of the redirecting safety. It moved Ole Miss into plus territory and helped to get the team in field goal range before the half, converting on the kick that would officially put the game out of reach at 26-0.
The second half was more of the same, and even when the Cardinals started scoring some points, Corral and Ole Miss often had an answer and it came without some of the flaws we saw from the QB in 2020. He did not press as a passer, overexpose himself as a runner or put the altered tempo in danger when momentum wasn't overwhelming towards the Rebel favor it lived by in the first half.
There was an off-speed game to Corral in operating the offense as well as with patience through passing progression. Not a single football looked forced, not a single snap looked rushed, and even the plays called back by close calls resulted in several would-be scores. Corral flashed a smile after the most devastating one, a fake quarterback draw turned into a throw to the running back right at the line of scrimmage, indicating it was about to be a good night for the powder blue.
If the decision-making was the most impressive trait for Corral on opening night, his demeanor and steadiness throughout the game and regardless of down and distance -- was a close second. The arm strength, quick trigger and overall athleticism were a known commodity entering the season, even one with elevated expectation. But drawing praise for the non-football element of the game from the ESPN broadcast team, especially without Kiffin on hand, was well earned and should play as the foundation for growing Ole Miss expectation in 2021.
The calm may be here to stay.
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