OXFORD • Experience is not going to be a strong suit of the Ole Miss offense this season, but attitude and swagger may be.
That’s what players and coaches are banking on as the Rebels try to reestablish relevancy in the SEC and reach a bowl game for the first time since a Sugar Bowl victory in 2015.
For the first time in two seasons the Rebels are freed from an NCAA bowl ban.
In the quest for improvement Ole Miss will meet its new run-based spread option offense with four freshman quarterbacks and some level of inexperience at every position.
What Rebels coach Matt Luke thought most important in his first spring with new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriquez, once the head coach at three Power Five schools, was not X’s and O’s but spirit and fight.
“I was very, very impressed with Rich Rodriquez this spring, not only implementing his offense, but seeing the attitude and the toughness that he’s instilling in that side of the ball. And I think that’s going to be a dynamic unit. It’s going to be fun to watch,” Luke said.
Starting quarterback Matt Corral, a redshirt freshman, has the most experience at his position after four appearances in mostly mop-up duty last year.
He exhibited confidence in his live snaps, and if his fight is questioned one need only look at his role in the bench-clearing brawl against rival Mississippi State in last year’s final game.
With little live-game experience it takes a certain personality to help bring to the table the attitude Rodriquez is looking for, and Corral has it.
“He wants us to play with that hard edge, that savage mentality, and it’s very very contagious,” Corral said. “It’s not only me. Everyone just blows it up because of the Mississippi State game. Behind the scenes it’s Elijah Moore. That kid’s a hard worker. It rubs off. Young guys see that even though we’re young too. We’re the ones that have to step up. It’s only positive.”
Corral says he’s very comfortable in the Rodriquez offense mainly because it so closely mirrors what he ran at Long Beach (California) Poly High School.
His summer work has centered mostly on film study plus lots of throw-and-catch time with his receivers in an effort to develop chemistry.
The Rebels currently list two redshirt freshmen and a first-year junior college transfer at receiver on the preseason two-deep roster.
A trio of highly rated freshmen will join the mix in August.
Getting his feet wet in 2018 Corral was 16 for 22 passing for 239 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
He scored on a 61-yard run against Louisiana-Monroe, showing speed down the west sideline.
Quarterback runs are a big part of the plan for Rodriquez. In the spring Luke was lukewarm on Corral’s progress there calling him a “willing runner.”
Luke said the Rodriquez offense forces defenses to account for every inch of grass.
Self-confidence will be important in executing the offense, and Luke believes Corral checks the box there.
“You want to be around guys that have that energy and that fire and that toughness, especially at that position,” Luke said. “His competitive fire, his spirit … players just gravitated toward him. He was thrust into a leadership role, and he’s done a great job of competing and carrying himself in the right way.”