McCready: With no margin for error, Corral has perfect day

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Neal McCready’s postgame column is presented by Comer Heating and Air and Southern Air Conditioning and Heating. Different names, same great products and services. If you live in Oxford, Tupelo or the surrounding area, call Comer at 662-801-1777. If you live in Hernando, Memphis or the surrounding area, call Southern at 662-429-4429.

OXFORD — Matt Corral had to answer questions about Arkansas for a year.

He can stop now.

Ole Miss’ quarterback carried the 17th-ranked Rebels to a 52-51 win over the Razorbacks Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

I’m not a good enough writer to properly convey just how well Corral paid. There are stats, sure. Corral was 14-for-21 passing, good for 287 yards and two touchdowns. He added 94 yards and two touchdowns rushing as well.

But again, that simply doesn’t tell the story of Ole Miss’ win over the 13th-ranked Razorbacks. There was so much more to Corral’s day than numbers.

Ole Miss was without starting offensive guard Caleb Warren, running back Jerrion Ealy and wide receiver Jonathan Mingo. For much of the day, Arkansas took away the deep ball, meaning Corral and the Rebels had to grind for everything they got.

On the other side, Arkansas rolled up 676 yards of total offense. The Hogs got what they wanted on the ground — 350 yards — and plenty through the air as well. Sardis native K.J. Jefferson was 25-for-35 passing for 326 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Jefferson and the Hogs deserve so much credit. They simply wouldn’t die. Every time Ole Miss scored in the second half, Arkansas answered. At the end of the day, a two-point conversion attempt separated the two teams.

And Corral. Ole Miss doesn’t win without a perfect performance from Corral. A year ago, he threw six interceptions against the Razorbacks in a 33-21 loss. On Saturday, there was no room for error. So Corral didn’t commit one.

Instead, he just made plays. He extended drives with his feet, created long runs with his play-fakes and, once Arkansas committed to stopping the run, he punished the Razorbacks with the deep ball.

Tied at 38-38, Corral connected with Braylon Sanders for a 67-yard pass to give Ole Miss the ball at the the Arkansas 1. Snoop Conner scored one play later.

Arkansas answered, marching 65 yards on eight plays, capped by a Jefferson 10-yard TD run, to tie it.

Then Corral made a huge play, tricking an Arkansas cornerback with his eyes and then hitting Sanders with a 68-yard touchdown pass to give the Rebels a 52-45 lead with 1:07 left.

“Our quarterback is unbelievable,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said.

A week after losing at No. 1 Alabama, Ole Miss’ season wasn’t on the brink Saturday, but lofty hopes were on the line. A home loss to Arkansas isn’t one of the ingredients to a 10-2 season and a trip to an access bowl. A Heisman candidacy — I was wrong last week; I own it — wasn’t going to gain much traction with a loss to the Razorbacks, either.

Now, all of that is alive, though the Rebels are going to have to do some soul-searching on defense. Ole Miss can still have a special season, and in a year in which there’s no clear-cut favorite, games like Saturday’s can propel Corral into the meat of the Heisman conversation.

“He’s unbelievable,” Kiffin said. “We knew we were going to have to run him against their defense, which is very physical, just to wear them down.”

Kiffin cracked a joke Saturday after the game, saying the Rebels “didn’t really stop” Arkansas.

“They just happened to go for two,” Kiffin said, one gambler admiring another.

Everyone can laugh once their hearts return to normal rhythm.

No one in powder blue was leaving with a smile without Corral, though. On a day when he had to be perfect, he turned in a special performance that will be remembered for ages.

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