During a crisis, it’s easy to focus on what you don’t have.
What Ole Miss football doesn’t have is a locked-down starter at quarterback. There will be a lot of questions about that position as we approach a season with cautious hope, but itself without locked-down certainty.
Voluntary conditioning workouts continue in most places amid safety protocols as society restarts while COVID-19 lingers.
Some of those quarterback questions came last week when new coach Lane Kiffin visited with local media in a Zoom call.
It doesn’t seem so long ago that we wondered how John Rhys Plumlee’s pursuit of baseball would impact his ability to learn a new offense and improve his completion percentage in spring football.
Well, COVID answered that quarterback question.
“John probably would have fallen behind, I assume, just off of baseball and the amount of time for us to evaluate and work with him and throwing the ball in the system,” Kiffin said. “In that sense it probably neutralized it in terms of those two with no one having an advantage.”
Presumably Matt Corral is the other half of “those two.” Corral started four games last year, Plumlee eight.
Redshirt freshmen Grant Tisdale and Kinkead Dent will also be part of the competition.
Coaches love experience, and that factor alone likely puts Plumlee and Corral ahead of the curve at the start of the competition, whenever that is. Without spring practice Tisdale and Dent will have to be on top of their game for every rep they get.
Kiffin has a history of adapting an offense to its strengths.
In 2014 as Alabama offensive coordinator Kiffin had Amari Cooper as a wideout, and Kiffin helped Blake Sims leads the SEC in passing efficiency. Cooper had 123.4 receiving yards a game and 16 touchdowns that season.
Meanwhile, running back Derek Henry, a future Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star, split time with TJ Yeldon, who was actually the Tide’s leading rusher.
In 2015 Sims and Cooper were gone, the Tide’s quarterback picture was unsettled early, and Henry led the nation with 2,219 rushing yards.
Kiffin also played to his strengths as the offensive coordinator at USC becoming more pass-oriented in 2006 as opposed to 2005 when he had Reggie Bush and Lendale White – who both surpassed 1,300 rushing yards – in the backfield.
In both seasons Kiffin achieved balanced play-calling, but there were preferences. In 2005 the Trojans’ top two rushers combined for 397 attempts while a year later the top two combined for 268 attempts.
While Kiffin doesn’t know his starting quarterback at Ole Miss, he does know his top two running backs, and Jerrion Ealy and Jarod “Snoop” Conner are good ones.
Some rolled their eyes at a run-dominated Ole Miss offense under Rich Rodriguez last year – including a couple of young wide receivers and Tisdale, who pondered the transfer portal before choosing to stay after learning Kiffin had been hired.
They’ll see more diverse play-calling, but it may take some time to get there.
Things look different in a crisis.
The good news for Kiffin early will be the running backs he can lean on.