OXFORD • Ole Miss has invested in redshirt freshman Matt Corral as its quarterback since the end of the 2018 season.
Now depending on Corral’s health and other variables, the Rebels’ quarterback plan could be revised before a trip to face No. 2 Alabama this week.
Unable to put points on the board while No. 23 California pulled away Saturday, Ole Miss coach Matt Luke turned to true freshman John Rhys Plumlee who nearly rallied the Rebels from a 15-point deficit after entering with less than 6 minutes to play.
Plumlee was stopped short on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the final play, and Cal held on to win 28-20 before an announced crowd of 46,850 fans at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“We’ll look at Matt, I think he’s got some ribs. Obviously John Rhys’ play gives you confidence that if Matt’s not 100 percent he can go in and perform,” Luke said.
Plumlee entered the game because Corral complained of pain in his mid-section. The Rebels trailed 28-13 and faced a third-and-10 from their 38 with less than 6 minutes to go when Plumlee took his first snap and promptly ran 47 yards to the Cal 15. The next snap was a 15-yard touchdown run by Jerrion Ealy, another true freshman.
On the ensuing possession Cal (4-0) ran four plays before punting, and the Rebels took over with Plumlee at their own 10 with 2:45 left.
A four-star signee from Oak Grove and also a baseball player, Plumlee was 7 for 7 passing for 82 yards on the drive, his last completion to Elijah Moore ended with Moore’s body in the end zone but the ball at the Cal 1.
Moore would not address the play.
“The game’s over with. It doesn’t really matter now. We’ve got Bama next,” he said.
The Rebels had no timeouts and had to rush into a final play on Plumlee’s sneak before the clock ran out. Moore’s catch which was placed at the 1 was not reviewed by the Pac-12 officials.
“All I was told was the ball was snapped, so we couldn’t look at it,” Luke said. “We didn’t have any timeouts. Our only option was to do the quarterback sneak and get the ball off. I thought it would be buzzed, something that close, and they would look at it.”
Plumlee had a 41-yard completion to Demarcus Gregory to move the Rebels down the field.
As Ole Miss (2-2) got away from its run-first tendencies Corral had season-highs for attempts (41) and completions (22), but drives bogged down. Ole Miss punted on four- straight possessions after Luke Logan’s 33-yard field goal made it 14-13 with 3 minutes, 59 seconds left in the second quarter.
On the fifth drive in that sequence, it took the Rebels 14 plays to cover 48 yards, but on second-and-goal from the 1, Corral was unable to field a shotgun snap from Eli Johnson. Corral fell on the ball, but the play lost 11 yards, and Logan missed a 29-yard field goal attempt.
Corral looked in rhythm early as he hit 11 of his first 14 attempts, but things changed in the second quarter, and he missed eight of his next nine, several of his targets open in that stretch.
Both Luke and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez said it was a matter of execution, not adjustments by the Cal defense, when Corral was off the mark.
While quarterback play was spotty for Ole Miss it wasn’t for Cal, which got four touchdown passes from redshirt sophomore Chase Garbers. Garbers, who had thrown only three touchdowns in the first three games, was 23 for 35 for 357 yards with several of his biggest completions coming on third down.
Rodriguez did not discuss how Plumlee night be used in preparation for Alabama.
“We’ll evaluate everything like we always do. The first thing we evaluate is our players’ health,” he said. “Certainly what John Rhys did gives us more confidence.”