Matt Luke

Ole Miss coach Matt Luke has seen his team begin to run the ball more effectively.

OXFORD Whether the weather makes a visiting Pac-12 opponent uncomfortable remains to be seen.

More important for Ole Miss today against No. 23 California will be how comfortable its own quarterback is feeling.

Redshirt freshman Matt Corral, a Southern California native, says after three starts he has a greater understanding of what’s expected from him in the run-based spread option of new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez.

After completing less than 50 percent of his passes in his starting debut against Memphis, a 15-10 loss, Corral has completed 68 percent in wins over Arkansas and Southeastern Louisiana.

“I started feeling comfortable really against Arkansas,” he said. “They say it feels different when you’re out on the field for the first time, and obviously it does. When you finally figure out what you’re doing, you have confidence in what you’re doing, all that goes away.”

Corral grew up at the opposite end of the state from the Cal campus in Berkeley. The current staff tried to get him to take a recruiting visit, but he declined. He has familiarity with some of the players he’ll face today including nickel back Traveon Beck, who Pro Football Focus rates as one of the Pac-12’s top defensive backs at covering slot receivers.

Rodriguez sees growth in his quarterback but says he wants to see Corral do a better job of making decisions and letting the offense come to him.

“He’ll get that. I think again I saw just a little bit in practice (Sunday) that mistakes he made Saturday he recognized and corrected, so it’s a work in progress. That’s the best way to put it. He’ll keep getting better.”

Corral’s improvement from Memphis has coincided with more consistency in the run game.

The Rebels ran just 52 plays at Memphis and gained only 80 yards on 33 rushing attempts, an average of 2.4 per carry.

The last two weeks the Rebels have rushed for 237 yards against Arkansas and 220 against Southeastern.

Cal through three games is ranked second in the Pac-12 and No. 14 nationally in pass defense efficiency and is ranked No. 56 in rushing defense at 129.3 yards per game allowed.

Corral has multiple reads available on reach play but rarely chose to keep and run against Southeastern after carrying 10 times for 46 yards against Arkansas.

The Rebels had 50 rushing attempts against Southeastern – 26 by running back Scottie Phillips – and have run the ball 65 percent of the time this season.

Ole Miss coach Matt Luke in the off-season called Corral a “willing” runner in the new system.

“If it’s open I’ll take it. I’m not going to be scared to run,” Corral said. “I’m not going to force the football because I don’t want to run. It’s pretty much what’s open take it.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com

Twitter: @parrishalford

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