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“Two starting quarterbacks”: Rebels’ starting QB role may not be set in stone

Just when fans thought they had the Ole Miss quarterback situation figured out, the coaching staff may not be as 100 percent sold on one player over another.

At least in words spoken, the Rebel coaches haven’t completely handed over the reins from Matt Corral to John Rhys Plumlee just yet.

Plumlee won his second start on Saturday, leading the charge in what became a 31-6 drubbing of Vanderbilt at home. Against the Commodores, Plumlee rushed for 165 yards and a score.

“I think (Plumlee) gave us a little bit of a spark,” said offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez after Saturday’s win. “I think we have two starting quarterbacks in my opinion, in him and Matt (Corral) both. Then we have another one in Grant Tisdale that I have a lot of confidence in. John Rhys had a good week (against Alabama) and played pretty solidly against a really good team. Today there’s a lot of things we probably left out there, but he’s a competitor and we won, so that’s good.”

Plumlee said he wasn’t told until Saturday morning that he would start the Vanderbilt game. However, he prepared throughout the whole week like he would be the starter. Repetitions throughout practice were pretty evenly split between him and Corral.

But despite practice reps, Corral was not at 100 percent this weekend. Head coach Matt Luke said they felt confident in Corral’s ability to throw the football, but that he wouldn’t have felt as good getting hit in the run game with that rib injury. He’s still considered day-to-day going into Missouri.

The problem with Plumlee, and likely the reason the Ole Miss staff is hesitant to go all-in with the true freshman, is he’s yet to show a ton of competence in the passing game. At Alabama, Plumlee competed just 36 percent of his passes. Against Vandy, the completion percentage went up to 56 percent, but he threw for just 99 yards. At some point, to beat good teams, he’ll have to show the ability to throw the football competently.

“He’s still learning and growing in the passing game,” Rodriguez said on Monday, talking about Plumlee. “The completion percentage, I don’t look at that as much as ‘Is his decision-making solid?’ And he’s a really smart guy; all of our quarterbacks are smart. But we have to be able to throw the football… In a game, everything happens so much faster and you have to process things so much quicker. Really good quarterback play starts with his eyes, where his eyes are at. And that’s both in the run game and the pass game. Our guys are pretty good at that, but he’s still processing and getting great at that.”

Now let’s be real about this – no matter what the actual quarterback situation is, of course Rodriguez would be vague. A week ago following the Alabama game, Rodriguez joked that “there’s absolutely zero chance” he was going to reveal who would start at quarterback against Vanderbilt – and why would he? Vandy had to spend the week preparing for both quarterbacks.

The problem with that now becomes simple logic. After playing competently at Alabama and blowing out Vanderbilt, it sure seems like Plumlee is hands-down the guy. It’s hard to imagine Missouri is preparing as if Matt Corral is starting on Saturday, but the coaching staff wants it to seem like he could play, if healthy. And there’s always a chance both could play when Ole Miss hits the road this weekend to play at Missouri.