NEW ORLEANS – Matt Corral needed more yards, and he wasn’t going to let a 6-3, 237-pound linebacker stop him from getting them.
So Ole Miss’s quarterback lowered his shoulder and swooped down on Baylor’s Matt Jones in the middle of a 15-yard run to move the chains to fourth in the opening quarter of Saturday’s Sugar Bowl.
Four games later, Corral crawled across the pitch in anguish after sustaining a right leg injury while being sacked. His college career was over.
Corral spent the next three quarters supporting his teammates from the sideline on crutches as he watched the No.8 Rebels (10-3) lose 21-7 to No.6 Baylor (12-2) at the Superdome. .
Corral’s injury and Baylor’s relentless pass rush and three interceptions neutralized an offense that ranked among the best in the country. The nature of Corral’s injury and whether it will affect his NFL first-round draft stock is unclear, but coach Lane Kiffin said an x-ray on Corral’s injury came back negative.
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Throughout Corral’s last college season, Ole Miss’s moxie man provided the strongest wind in the Rebels’ sails. He appears to be an uncompromising and passionate football guy who cares about his teammates.
Corral debunks the shot provided Saturday morning by ESPN star analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who got cranky when he lamented that “this era of the player just doesn’t like football,” while ‘he expressed his opinion through the lens of the bowl-out game option.
What metric does Herbstreit use to measure its claim? Did he probe gamer love for the game in 1991 and again in 2021?
Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback, explained that some players still have a passion for the game, but not as much as he was back in his day. He cited distractions and video games to obscure gamers’ passion. I guess Herbstreit never played the Tecmo Super Bowl.
Herbstreit’s finger tremor called for an “OK, Boomer” line, except Herbstreit is a Gen X member. Herbie hasn’t even peaked.
Herbstreit and fellow analyst Desmond Howard said boules meant more to players of their time. Well, certainly. There was no national championship game or college football game at that time. The bowl games were the crowning glory of the season. Now the PCP is. Herbstreit’s employer spends the season increasing the playoffs with each round.
Young people have not changed the system. Sports powerbrokers did, while seeing dollar signs.
College football players across the country have opted out of bowl games which have been devalued by the arrival of the playoffs in increasing numbers since running backs Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford pitched. the trend during the 2016 season. Also that season, Michigan tight end Jake Butt tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Orange Bowl. Butt’s traction stock suffered. Playing in a bowl literally cost him money.
This tendency to exclude bowl games is not proof that players don’t like the game. These are business decisions that stem from a sport that has grown into a big business.
To say that players back then don’t like hollow soccer rings when you consider how much work it takes to be a Division I soccer player these days. The games are seasonal, but training, conditioning, and preparation are endeavors that take place year round. Players spend most of the year on campus perfecting their craft. Road games are characterized as business trips.
I am not arguing for the exclusion of bowls games – or against them. It’s a decision that every NFL-related player must weigh. I admire Corral’s choice, which he called simple, to play the Sugar Bowl.
“I certainly wouldn’t have been in this position without (my teammates),” Corral said before the Sugar Bowl. “I’m not just going to go. … I’m going to give these guys everything I’ve got until it’s over.
After Corral reached the sideline on crutches in the second quarter, still dressed in his turf-stained uniform pants, several teammates came out to offer him handshakes and hugs.
“He brings a lot of juice to the team and a lot of excitement and a lot of hope,” Ole linebacker Miss Chance Campbell said after the loss.
Corral was not a secondary statue either. He sought his replacement, Luke Altmyer, for consultation after possessions.
When Altmyer threw a 37-yard touchdown at Braylon Sanders in the third quarter, Corral ran several yards down the touchline with his crutches so he could be among the first to congratulate Altmyer.
This moment was as pure as it was in Herbstreit’s days.
Blake Toppmeyer is SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s cover, think a digital subscriptionwhich will allow you to access it all.