Matt Corral ready to take over the reins for the Rebels

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral played in four games last season, including the annual Egg Bowl rivalry with Mississippi State, and will enter this season as a redshirt freshman.

OLE MISS

› Last season: 5-7 (1-7 SEC)› 2019 opener: Aug. 31 vs. Memphis in Memphis (7:30 p.m. EDT; ESPNU)› Fun fact: Ole Miss and Mississippi State have split the past four Egg Bowl matchups. They’ve also split their past 20 Egg Bowl meetings and their past 30.› Coming Monday: Mississippi State

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral made SEC Media Days history this month, becoming the first freshman ever showcased at the preseason extravaganza.

Several factors played into Corral's unique appearance.

First off, Ole Miss lost a lot of weapons off last season's team, including quarterback Jordan Ta'amu and receivers A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge, who all had sizable roles in the Rebels leading the league in passing offense. Secondly, the Rebels had to bring somebody, as they were the only SEC program that didn't have a single player on the league's preseason first, second or third team.

There is also Corral himself, who won Rebels coach Matt Luke over despite competing in only four games.

"A lot of people asked me about bringing a freshman to Media Days," Luke said, "but with his competitive fire and his competitive spirit, the players gravitated toward him. I think he was thrust into a leadership role, and I really think he's done a great job of competing and carrying himself the right way.

"As a former player, you want to be around guys who have that energy and that fire and that toughness, especially at that position."

Corral, a 6-foot-1, 207-pounder from Ventura, California, played last year against Southern Illinois, Louisiana-Monroe, South Carolina and Mississippi State before having his redshirt season protected. In a 70-21 humbling of ULM, he went 10-of-10 passing for 143 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed six times for 78 yards and a score.

It was a different story in the Egg Bowl, when an injury to Ta'amu thrust Corral into action in the biggest game of the season. Corral's first attempt was a 26-yard completion, but he went just 4-of-7 for 39 yards and an interception the rest of the way in a 35-3 loss to MSU that sealed a 5-7 record.

What did Corral learn in his four-game sample size?

"That it's not necessarily faster, but you have to think faster," he said. "Of course, everyone gets more athletic and all that, so you have to be on top of your game way more than you were in high school. The SEC is the next closest thing to the NFL.

"You've got linemen at Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina who are twice as big as me and run just as fast as me."

Corral was a consensus top-100 prospect in the 2018 signing class and committed to Florida before the Gators parted ways with coach Jim McElwain late in the 2017 season. In December 2017, he made the switch from Florida to Ole Miss.

"It was the coaching change, and it just didn't match right," Corral said. "We had a top-three class going there, but none of that stuff matters now. All I'm worried about is winning games for Ole Miss."

The Rebels could be hard-pressed to match last season's averages of 510.5 yards and 33.9 points per game, but there is definitely the potential with Corral and a 1-2 running back punch of senior Scottie Phillips and true freshman Jerrion Ealy. Phillips is a 5-8, 216-pounder who produced first downs or touchdowns on 38% of his carries last season, which is the highest rate for any returning running back in the league.

Ealy is a consensus top-100 national prospect whom many recruiting analysts pegged for professional baseball but will give football a go after not getting selected in the early rounds of June's draft.

The Ole Miss offense is under the guidance this season of former West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez.

"He wants us to play with a hard edge and a savage mentality, and it's very, very contagious," Corral said. "It's the same offense from my senior year, when I was at Long Beach Poly. There were a lot of progressional reads, and it was a very prolific offense my senior year."

Now that he's the first freshman to attend SEC Media Days, Corral is now eager to become the first freshman quarterback this century to start a season at Ole Miss, something even Eli Manning didn't do.

"Matt's a very, very talented guy," Luke said. "He can make all of the throws and is accurate from a bunch of different odd angles. He's got escapability in the pocket, and he has all of the intangibles in terms of toughness."

Said Corral: "I wanted it this way, and it's part of the reason why I came here. I wanted to be a leader and set an example."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.