OXFORD, Miss. (WLBT) - A misty evening at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium presented a mystifying ordeal for those watching the Ole Miss Rebels.
Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez taking the “dual quarterback system" to heart, setting up a formation that saw both John Rhys Plumlee and Matt Corral lined up in the backfield. The latter took the snap, pitched it to the former, who threw a 10-yard pass to the sidelines for a first down.
Believe it or not, that gadget play was the second longest completed pass of Plumlee’s night.
And so goes the story of the Ole Miss offense this season as Corral and Plumlee would share the field, share multiple series and, ultimately, share the brunt of a 24-17 loss to Texas A&M. A game that left Matt Luke apologizing to the fans afterwards.
“That was an unbelievable atmosphere,” Luke said of the Rebel faithful. “Walking through The Grove was the best it has been since I’ve been here. I’m grateful for that and I’m sorry that we cam up short.”
Perhaps the apologies should go to an Ole Miss defense that allowed just 17 points and picked off Kellen Mond twice while holding the Texas A&M quarterback to a season-worst 172 passing yards. A vintage landshark performance wasted by an offense that, Saturday night, backed up the longtime football cliché, if you have two quarterbacks, then you have none.
Plumlee got the start for Ole Miss and the majority of the snaps but was ineffective. The true freshman completed just four of his 12 passes, which is now a third time in five appearances where he has had a completion rate under 50-percent. More alarming however, was that for the first time this season, it was a chore for Plumlee to run the ball.
Coming in with three straight games of over 100-rushing yards, Plumlee was held to just 38 yards on 13 carries as the Aggie defense pretty much had a linebacker -- sometimes two -- spying and crashing anytime the Ole Miss quarterback pulled the ball down to run. It was on one such occasion, where a scrambling Plumlee was bottled up in the backfield, leading to a 62-yard Texas A&M fumble return for a touchdown.
That proved to ultimately be the difference in the game.
It was after that moment where Corral saw the field much more with, I guess, Rodriguez’s thought being that Ole Miss had to throw its way back into the game and the redshirt freshman was better suited for that. To a point, Corral was, going 10-of-17 for 124 yards, including completions on his final four passes.
But, as was the case for Plumlee, the flow of the game never found Corral. There could be a multitude of reasons for that, one of them obviously being Texas A&M’s defensive game plan. Rodriguez, who ESPN cameras caught showing frustration up in the coaches box, feels the problems lie with a young team still grasping a new offense.
“It’s tougher because really everyone in this offense is a freshman,” said Ole Miss’ first-year offensive coordinator. “This is the first year for all of these [learning the system].”
I guess that’s a fair point, especially when there has been no stability at quarterback. Corral’s early injury really set things back. But even so, when an offense looks as disjointed as the Rebels’ did on Saturday night, the questions will rightfully arise on a two quarterback system.
I wrote in this space last week that it could be used to get a head start on the QB competition for the 2020 season. I’m already starting to rethink that because it might not be worth sacrificing any potential momentum and cohesion gained for the remainder of this season.
Against the Aggies, neither quarterback seemed comfortable with the situation and not only did they suffer, the entire offense did.
Maybe it gets better with the bye week coming up, but there needs to be caution. The last thing Luke and Rodriguez need at the end of the season is a pair of quarterbacks with no confidence and an offense -- and team -- with no direction.