The Ole Miss Rebels have what many would call a good problem to have. The roster has more than one viable option for the starting quarterback role. One of the big questions for Lane Kiffin and his offensive staff is who gets the nod this fall.
The Rebels have three realistic options for their quarterback role come fall. The incumbent, John Rhys Plumlee, showed off his incredible athleticism all season. His predecessor, Matt Corral, showed flashes of what made him the day one starter throughout the year. Grant Tisdale, the dark horse of the group, only got a few snaps, but provided a great moment at the end of a blowout.
Each of these three have different skills that make them extremely valuable to an offense, making them all strong options for the starting role.
John Rhys Plumlee
After starting as the backup to Matt Corral, John Rhys Plumlee was presented an opportunity. Against California, Corral had to be removed from the game with an injury. In Corral’s stead, Plumlee went a perfect seven for seven in the air and ran for 53 yards, good for 17 yards per carry.
As Corral remained shelved with bruised ribs, Plumlee continued to utilize his pure athleticism to his advantage. Alabama’s defense caught on quickly enough and limited Plumlee’s production on the ground and through the air, but that’s to be expected from a team of that caliber. The Rebs jetted past Vanderbilt with Plumlee under center, but his best performance came against the toughest opponent of the year.
Plumlee showed off against Louisiana State University. He played the majority of the game and ran for over 200 yards and four touchdowns. Overall, Plumlee ran for 12 (!!!) touchdowns and over one thousand yards in just 9 games. However, even with his prowess on the ground, his passing was a weak spot last season.
As exceptional as Plumlee was as a runner, he was equally mediocre as a passer. He threw for a total of four touchdowns and three interceptions. There is still hope for Plumlee’s throwing, though. He has obvious arm talent, he just needs some refinement in his decision making and understanding of a passing-minded offensive playbook.
Matt Corral started last season as the starter for the Ole Miss Rebels. He got off to a shaky start, got injured, but bounced back well. All in all, he had a relatively strong season for a first year quarterback.
While he did play in four games in 2018, the redshirt freshman had his first real taste of action against Memphis. He struggled against Mike Norvell’s defense and accounted for zero touchdowns. He bounced back over the next weeks.
Corral played two quality games in a row, one against Arkansas and one against Southeast Louisiana. He threw for no less than 239 yards and completed no less than 66% of his passes. He also played well in the loss to California, throwing for 266 yards and rushing for a touchdown.
With everything said, he showed a lack of mobility in the pocket after returning from injury; he was hit more often and forced into throwing the ball away when pressured. He also wasn’t given the best opportunity to perform. Corral was mainly given late game action when the Rebels were behind on the scoreboard. Quarterbacks in high pressure situations often try to force the ball into spaces that often aren’t there. This leads to turnovers and incomplete passes.
Corral proved this season that he can play. He isn’t just the hot-headed young quarterback who gets in fights against big rivals. If given a proper opportunity, Corral can deliver strong quarterback play in the passing game. If he shows out in training camp, Corral could be a huge weapon in Kiffin’s offense.
Out of these three players, Tisdale may be the most interesting case to look at for Kiffin and the offensive staff. He was the third string quarterback last season and got very limited game time. He suited up as the backup for every game that Plumlee started, but only got to play six total snaps.
Even though the sample size may have been small, it was impressive. His six snaps of action came at the end of the walloping in Tuscaloosa. In that short drive, Tisdale ran for ten yards and went two for two passing attempts, collecting 56 yards and a touchdown.
This small sample size showed off what Tisdale can do. He’s athletic enough to pick up yards on the ground. He can read a defense well enough to use a variety of throws deep downfield. He can manipulate the pocket to make enough time and space to throw the ball. However, there are some concerns.
Tisdale entered the transfer portal midway through last season. Offensive coordinator, Rich Rodriguez, implemented a heavily run oriented offense and gave Tisdale few opportunities to crack the starting lineup. He rejoined the Ole Miss squad midway through December. Tisdale’s small sample size of game time will be held against him, but he should have a clean slate under a new head coach and offensive coordinator.
The Ole Miss Rebels have four other quarterbacks on the roster. Three of them were redshirt freshmen last year who saw little to no game time. One is an incoming three-star prospect who signed early and participated in spring workouts.
Brice Johnson, Sellers Shy, and Kinkead Dent
For the purpose of this article, I’m putting these three quarterbacks in the same category. Neither Brice Johnson nor Sellers Shy played a snap last season, and Kinkead Dent only played eight snaps. There are a few distinctions between the three, however.
Kinkead Dent has that something you can’t teach. He is a mountain of a man, tipping the scales at six-foot, five-inches and 194 pounds, and has pure, easy arm strength. In a way, his strength is also one of his weaknesses. He can overthrow receivers by a mile and is inconsistent in his delivery.
Both Brice Johnson and Sellers Shy came out of high school listed as dual-threat quarterbacks, but after looking at game tape for both, neither are good enough at either part of running an offense to make a major difference at the collegiate level so far. Shy has a compact release with unexpected strength, but lacks the athleticism to effectively maneuver around a pocket at the next level. Johnson seems to have the opposite problem. He holds onto the ball too long at times and often leans too heavily on his athleticism to get him out of jams, even when a better option was available.
The last quarterback on the roster is incoming freshman Kade Renfro. Renfro joined the Ole Miss Rebels as an early enrollment last winter, and participated in spring workouts. The three-star recruit likely won’t get a shot at the starting role, but impressed Lane Kiffin with his upside.
Renfro brings the best of the three other quarterbacks to the table. In his senior season, Renfro showed off his prowess at running an offense. He effectively manipulated the pocket and delivered easily caught balls downfield with consistency. He also has a large frame, coming in at six-foot, four-inches and 185 pounds.
Renfro won’t start this season, unless injury makes the position available and he proves himself over his constituents. However, I see him as the Ole Miss Rebels’ quarterback of the future at this point.
The Choice for Next Season
This is a difficult decision. Not just for me, a fan, but also for the coaching staff. The choice will obviously come down to how the quarterbacks perform in practices and camps and how the players fit in with the new scheme of the offense.
My choice for right now is a split backfield between Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee. I know that may seem like I’m trying not to choose, but hear me out. Plumlee’s athleticism and pure running ability cannot be denied. It would be a shame to leave that level of ability and production on the bench. On the other hand, Corral provides a more consistent passing option for a coach most known for his passing schemes. No matter which quarterback gets the nod to lead the Rebels out this fall, the team will have a talented young man under center, ready to succeed.
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