NEW ORLEANS — Matt Corral craved more yards, and he wasn’t going to let some 6-foot-3, 237-pound linebacker stop him from getting them.
So, the Ole Miss quarterback lowered his shoulder and barreled over Baylor’s Matt Jones amid a 15-yard run to move the chains on fourth down during the first quarter of Saturday’s Sugar Bowl.
Four plays later, Corral crawled on the field in anguish after suffering a right leg injury while getting sacked. His college career was finished.
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MATT CORRAL INJURY: Shows why college football players opt out of bowl games
Corral’s injury coupled with Baylor's relentless pass rush and three interceptions neutered an offense that ranked among the nation’s best. The nature of Corral’s injury and whether it will affect his first-round NFL Draft stock is unclear, but coach Lane Kiffin said an X-ray on Corral's injury came back negative.
Throughout Corral’s final college season, Ole Miss’ man of moxie supplied the strongest wind in the Rebels’ sails. He seems like a hard-nosed, football-loving guy who cares for his teammates.
Corral debunks the hot take supplied Saturday morning by ESPN's star analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who came off as a grump when he bemoaned that “this era of player just doesn’t love football,” while he opined through the lens of bowl-game opt-outs.
— Barstool Ducks (@BarstoolDucks) January 1, 2022
What metric is Herbstreit using to measure his claim? Did he poll players’ love of the game in 1991 and again in 2021?
Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback, elaborated that some players still have passion for the game, but not as many as in his day. He cited distractions and video games for clouding players’ passion. I guess Herbstreit never played Tecmo Super Bowl.
Herbstreit’s finger-shaking called for an “OK, Boomer” retort, except that Herbstreit is a member of Generation X. Herbie hasn’t even hit his curmudgeonly prime.
Herbstreit and fellow analyst Desmond Howard said bowls meant more to players in their era. Well, sure. There was no national championship game or College Football Playoff in that era. Bowl games were the season’s crowning finish. Now, the CFP is. Herbstreit’s employer spends the season hyping up the playoff at every turn.
The youngsters didn’t change the system. The sport’s powerbrokers did, while seeing dollar signs.
College football players throughout the country have opted out of bowl games that were devalued by the playoff’s arrival in increasing numbers since running backs Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford started the trend in the 2016 season. Also that season, Michigan tight end Jake Butt tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Orange Bowl. Butt’s draft stock suffered. Playing in a bowl literally cost him money.
This trend of bowl game opt-outs isn’t evidence of players not loving the game. These are business decisions emerging from a sport that grew into big business.
Saying players in this era don’t love football rings hollow when you consider how much work is required to be a Division I football player nowadays. Games are seasonal, but training, conditioning and preparation are a year-round endeavor. Players spend nearly the entire year on campus honing their craft. Road games are characterized as business trips.
I’m not advocating for bowl game opt-outs – or against them. That’s a decision each NFL-bound player must weigh. I admire Corral’s choice, which he characterized as a no-brainer, to play in the Sugar Bowl.
“I definitely wouldn’t have been in this position if it wasn’t for (my teammates),” Corral said before the Sugar Bowl. “I’m not just going to leave. … I’m going to give these guys everything I’ve got ‘til it’s over.”
After Corral joined the sideline on crutches in the second quarter, still wearing his turf-stained uniform pants, several teammates came over to offer handshakes and hugs.
“He brings a lot of juice to the team and a lot of excitement and a lot of hope," Ole Miss linebacker Chance Campbell said of his teammate after the loss.
Corral was no sideline statue, either. He sought out his replacement, Luke Altmyer, for consultation after possessions.
When Altmyer threw a 37-yard touchdown to Braylon Sanders in the third quarter, Corral motored several yards down the sideline on his crutches so he could be among the first to congratulate Altmyer.
That moment was as pure as any from Herbstreit’s day.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Matt Corral's passion, injury debunk Kirk Herbstreit's bad take