Matt Corral's gutsy performance, strong defense propel Ole Miss past LSU

·6 min read

Oct. 24—OXFORD — On an afternoon that was all about Ghosts of Quarterback Past, Matt Corral made sure fans at Vaught-Hemingway remembered the present is filled with promise, too.

Former Ole Miss signal-caller Eli Manning had his No. 10 retired at halftime of Saturday's matchup between No. 12 Rebels and LSU. Corral, battered and bruised coming off a 30-carry performance at Tennessee, thrilled the 64,523 in attendance, finishing a solid 18-of-25 passing for 185 yards despite an injury had his playing status in doubt for most of the week.

»PARRISH ALFORD: Eli deserved this performance, the Rebels needed it

Corral and a stingy defensive effort led Ole Miss to a 31-17 victory over the Tigers, the first for the Rebels over LSU since 2015.

After falling behind 7-0 in the first quarter, Ole Miss scored 17-straight points to end the half and 31 in a row overall.

With the victory, the Rebels (6-1 overall, 3-1) are bowl-eligible. The Rebels have won three games in a row overall.

"When you can't push off, it's kind of hard to play quarterback. And you could see (Corral) couldn't move the same," Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. "The guy's a warrior. The guy's awesome ... You have to watch the game. You don't get to just sit back there and wait forever and throw to wide-open people. He's awesome. I don't know where we'd be without him."

During the week, Kiffin expressed doubt whether his Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback would be able to play this week after getting his ankle rolled up on in Knoxville. Corral left the game for a play late in the fourth quarter before returning for the game's final drive.

»NOTEBOOK: Lane Kiffin sees similar humility in Matt Corral and Eli Manning

Corral showed no ill-effects, totaling two touchdowns in the freshly Manning-emblazoned end zones, one passing and one rushing. He even caught a pass on Ole Miss' version of a Philly Special.

Ole Miss was without starting senior guard Ben Brown and senior wide receiver Braylon Sanders, but none of that mattered once the Rebels got things rolling.

And, if you ask Corral, his status was never really in question.

Corral said he received a shot that wore off after the second quarter but felt better than he expected postgame.

"I knew I was going to play," Corral said with a grin. "I knew (Kiffin) was going to do that on Saturday."

It was a sloppy start for Ole Miss (6-1 overall, 3-1 SEC) that included eight first-half penalties that killed early drives. LSU (4-4, 2-3) drove the ball 90 yards for a touchdown on its first drive, looking like the team that upset Florida last weekend in Baton Rouge. They almost went ahead 14-0, Ole Miss intercepted Johnson on the 1-yard line on fourth down, which started to change the complexion of the game.

"I think after (first touchdown) happened, everybody just came together, and we just settled in. We just got to what we know how to do," sophomore defensive end Cedric Johnson said. "Playing with each other, playing for each other, give as much effort as we can."

The Rebels caught fire in the second quarter, scoring 17-straight points to take a 10-point lead. It was a 19-yard pass off a reverse from senior Dontario Drummond to Corral that sparked the Rebels' first touchdown drive and first lead.

"I thought I was going to get rocked. ... I went out of bounds real quick," Corral said. "Drummond's got an arm, though."

After a 21-yard run from running back Jerrion Ealy was called back on holding, the junior came back on the very next play and picked up 29 yards on third-and-19. Corral then hit sophomore tight end Casey Kelly for a 2-yard touchdown, giving the Rebels their first lead of the afternoon and one they wouldn't come close to relinquishing.

»"Let it loose": Jerrion Ealy has big day in win over LSU

The Rebels sacked LSU's Max Johnson twice on the Tigers' next possession, giving Ole Miss a chance to extend its lead heading into the locker room. Corral didn't waste much time, hitting Drummond over the middle for a gain of 27 that eventually set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Corral that extended the lead to 10.

From there it was all Rebels, as sophomore running back Henry Parrish Jr. put the icing on the cake early in the third quarter with a 5-yard scoring run where he dragged a pile of LSU defenders with him into the end zone.

The Ole Miss defense did more than hold its own against an LSU offense that came in averaging more than 32 points per game, forcing three turnovers and holding the Tigers to just 326 total yards.

"I believe that we played a complete game," Johnson said. "I feel like we played together as a unit as one. Offense, defense, special teams. I feel like we all played to the best of our ability. I feel that we're just going to continue to get better and better."

The Tigers were held scoreless for the better part of the last three quarters, save for 10 points late with the game out of hand. Johnson, who entered the game with 20 touchdown passes, finished with just 146 yards and an interception. A week after running for a school-record 287 yards against Florida, LSU's Tyrion Davis-Price had just 53 yards on 17 carries.

"It's fun to be the head coach when your defense is playing good," Kiffin said. "You don't have that feeling like you have to score all the time. ... I thought our defense kind of started this way in the Louisville game, shutout at half. So, I think we're back to that."

Ole Miss heads to Auburn next, a team the Rebels haven't beaten since 2015.

As great as Saturday's performance was, there is more work to be done. And Corral is confident Ole Miss will do whatever it takes to keep its momentum going, regardless of who is available to play.

"This team is bridging from being from good to great. It's easy to be a good team," Corral said. "But it's hard to become that great team, because you need all three phases to do their job.

"It doesn't matter who's out there. We're going to find a way to win. And that's the bottom line."

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