Plenty of confidence for junior tight end, Ole Miss offense

Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram has never been to Starkville. 

Engram was forced to miss his only other opportunity when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury against LSU in his true freshman season. He was the Rebels’ third-leading receiver prior to being shelved.

He’ll finally get his introduction to life on the road in the Egg Bowl rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State on Saturday. The teams will kick off at 6:15 p.m. on ESPN2.

“It’s a rivalry with a lot of tradition,” he said. “A lot of heated emotions are going to be on the field just from players who are from this state and even out-of-state that know how crucial, how big this game is for our school. I’m excited for it. I know it’s going to be a crazy atmosphere. I know they have a good fan base. They’re going to be amped up. It’s a night game. I’m excited for it.”

Ole Miss is ranked No. 19 in the country with an 8-3 (5-2 SEC) record on the year. Mississippi State, meanwhile, is No. 23 with an equal 8-3 overall record, including a 4-3 mark in league play.

The game will feature two of the most prolific offenses in the SEC, as well as its two-best quarterbacks. Chad Kelly and Dak Prescott rank first and second, respectively, in most statistical categories, including passing yards per game and total yards per game.

“I’m focused on scoring every chance we get,” Engram, the school record holder in career receiving yards by a tight end (1,255), said. “If they can score, we’re going to keep scoring. If they can’t, it is what it is. I’m really just focused on making sure our offense is clicking and building good chemistry off of it. Don’t have any turnovers at all, limit negative plays and stuff. If we do that, it can be a high-scoring game because our offense is really explosive when we get going.”

Ole Miss is rolling offensively, having already established a school record with 445 points, surpassing the Rebels’ total of 442 in 2003. They need 455 total offensive yards to break the 2013 team’s record of 6,153.

Engram said the Rebels are riding a wave of confidence, especially after a turnover-free, 38-17 win over LSU last week. Engram caught a team-high five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown.

“There’s a lot of confidence,” he said. “I feel like the chemistry is the main attribute to that. In practice we flow really well, balls are good, things we mess up on we fix. Everything we work on is there on game day. Our coaches do a great job of game-planning and putting in and making calls that will be successful for us. There’s definitely confidence all the way around for our coaches and our players as an offensive unit.

“If we can be physical up front, they’ve got some big d-ends. Not too athletic, but big-bodied guys who can stop the run. They squeeze a lot. Our run game is going to be pretty important this weekend. Their secondary is athletic. They’ve got some guys who can run around, getting in and out of cuts and stuff. If we establish our run game, we can take what’s there through the passing game.”

Ole Miss will look to break the recent trend of the home team virtually winning each year in the Egg Bowl. Ten of the last 11 meetings have resulted in a win for the host team. The Rebels won 31-17 last season.

“It’s definitely a a curveball, just the silent count and opposing crowds,” Engram said. “They do cause problems and it is a factor, especially in this game. It’s definitely going to be a little different curveball for us. But we feel we’ve practicing on it all week, we’ve been working on it. We’re cleaning it up now and working on it. We’re confident and we’re excited about it.”

Engram said scoring early and quieting the crowd, and the cowbells, is important.

“That’ll be very good for us to get the crowd out of the game early,” he said. “Our defense has been flying around. They’re confident about this game, so if they can get stops and we can do our thing as an offensive unit, we can kind of take the crowd out of the game pretty early and put some points on the board. If they stick around and it’s a good game, a close game, it’s going to be a crazy atmosphere. We’ve just got to handle it the best we can.”

This is the 112th meeting between Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The Rebels lead the all-time series 61-43-6, though Mississippi State has won four out of the last six. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze is 2-1 against the in-state rival Bulldogs in his tenure.

Forecasts call for the possibility of rain. If so, Engram said the Rebels are prepared.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. “We’ve got to go out and play in it, rain or shine. Last night we were kind of preparing for it. We were on the grass, it was kind of wet and really cold. We’ve been outside; we’re going to be outside all week. Coaches are kind of getting us prepared for it. There’s nothing we can do about it, so we’ll embrace it and we’ll be ready to go.”


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