HOOVER, Ala. — The preseason chatter about Texas A&M’s football schedule typically starts and ends with Alabama coming to Kyle Field on Oct. 9, but the Aggies’ game at Ole Miss on Nov. 13 could loom large.
The Rebels return junior quarterback Matt Corral, who averaged 384.3 total yards of offense per game last season to lead the nation. Corral helped Ole Miss go 5-5 as offensive-minded head coach Lane Kiffin grabbed national attention in his first season in Oxford, Mississippi. Half of Ole Miss’ games featured at least 83 points topped by a 63-48 loss to eventual national champion Alabama that produced 1,370 yards.
“It’s kind of exhausting afterwards even as coaches let alone being the players,” Kiffin said Tuesday at the Southeastern Conference Media Days.
Ole Miss expects to keep scoring with eight returners on offense led by Corral, who capped his sophomore season with a school bowl-record 390 total yards in a 26-20 victory over seventh-ranked Indiana in the Outback Bowl.
“We expect Matt to play better, be more consistent, limit turnovers, take care of the ball better,” Kiffin said. “He’s done a great job from a leadership standpoint. He’s a very confident kid.”
Corral threw for 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns, completing 231 of 326 passes with 14 interceptions. He added 506 yards rushing on 112 carries (4.5 average) with four touchdowns.
Ole Miss didn’t play A&M last season because of COVID-19.
“A&M’s a great team, and I would have definitely wanted to see how we matched up against them,” Corral said.
The Aggies went 9-1 last season and finished fourth in the final Associated Press poll, A&M’s highest ranking since winning the national title in 1939. Ole Miss didn’t play the Aggies, but Kiffin and his staff prepared for A&M twice since the game was moved from Nov. 21 to Dec. 12 before it was canceled.
“I thought they did a lot of things really well,” Kiffin said. “[They have] premiere players, a very talented roster. I remember looking at the front and saying, ‘Hey, this is going to be very challenging.’”
A&M’s defense allowed only 317.3 yards per game last season to lead the SEC. The Aggies return nine starters on defense, including ends Tyree Johnson and DeMarvin Leal and defensive tackle Jayden Peevy. A&M’s front seven was hard to run against as the Aggies allowed only 92 yards rushing per game to rank second in the country behind Georgia (72.3).
Corral is complemented by a potent running game. Ole Miss averaged 210.6 rushing yards per game to lead the SEC, and the Rebels return their top five rushers from last season and all but one starting lineman.
“We need to continue to build off of that regardless of the quarterback,” Kiffin said. “Even though I know a lot of times people think we just throw the ball wherever we’ve been, we’re at our best when we run the ball, and I think we’ve done that really well at times.”
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Corral has NFL-caliber arm strength but is also a big part of the running game. He has 182 carries in his career for 724 yards (4.0) and seven touchdowns.
“Matt is actually pretty fast,” Ole Miss defensive back Jaylon Jones said. “During this offseason right now, he’s sticking with a couple of us, or trying to, and I think he uses his legs real well in games.”
A&M did a good job containing Corral in a 24-17 victory two years ago in Oxford. Corral carried four times for 5 yards. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 124 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. The Aggies also sacked him twice.
Corral split time at quarterback in 2019 with John Rhys Plumlee, who was delegated to backup last season, attempting only seven passes and 25 carries. Corral accounted for at least 370 total yards in eight games. He struggled in back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Auburn. Corral was intercepted six times in a 33-21 loss to Arkansas and had two interceptions and a season-low 154 yards passing in a 35-28 loss to Auburn. He also had five interceptions in a 53-48 loss to LSU.
“He’s never had a second year of a system,” Kiffin said. “I think a lot of people forgot with that, too, that it was his first year as a starter. So we know what to build off, and we know what it should look like.”
Barring an injury, Corral will have nine more games under this belt when the Aggies roll into Oxford.
NOTES — A&M will be featured at SEC Media Days on Wednesday afternoon along with Mississippi State. Accompanying A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher will be offensive tackle Kenyon Green and Leal. ... Alabama and Vanderbilt will take the stage Wednesday morning.