SEC: Evan Engram

With the NFL combine spitting out some impressive performances over the weekend, our minds are fixated on freaks. Honestly, football brings out the freak in everyone.

If you were paying attention to Instagram even before the combine, you probably saw quite the freakish performance by Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. They might as well have been trying to impress scouts in Indy with the show they put on. Treadwell posted to his Instagram (@successfulquon) a video of he and Nkemdiche sprinting inside Ole Miss' indoor practice facility at what looks to be pretty close to full speed.

What's so impressive about sprinting inside during the offseason? Well, both players dealt with devastating leg injuries last year that cut their seasons short. Nkemdiche suffered a broken ankle in Ole Miss' 10-7 loss to LSU on Oct. 25, while Treadwell broke his leg and dislocated his ankle during a gruesome play at the goal line a week later in the Rebels' 35-31 loss to Auburn.

Barely three months later and these two are back sprinting and appear to be in pretty good shape, as well.



But the Rebels didn't stop showing off their freaks there. Over the weekend, Treadwell gave tight end Evan Engram some time to shine with an Instagram montage of some very impressive one-handed, Odell Beckham Jr.-type catches. You could probably sit and watch this video for hours. Like Beckham, Engram made these catches look waaaaaaaaay too easy. I'd like to crack the joke that he probably just used some of the New England Patriots' deflated footballs, but I'm not going to throw any shade at this young man. What he's doing in this video isn't easy, and it only deserves a round of applause.

What are they feeding these folks in Oxford?

=3 Evan 17 Engram @evanengram

A video posted by @successfulquon on

Good luck finding a more talent-laden team than Ole Miss.

Think about it: Between Tony Conner, Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, you're looking at four potential first-round picks in next year's NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeKelly
AP Photo/Steve HelberOle Miss' hopes for a national title ride on the wild card that is Chad Kelly, who threw just 17 passes while at Clemson.
That's getting ahead of ourselves, obviously, but who else in the SEC has that kind of top-level talent? Sure, the roster is somewhat top heavy and the quarterback position is a bit of a mystery, but still. Having those kinds of players to build around is certainly advantageous.

So why can't Ole Miss make a run at another New Year's Six bowl or possibly reach the College Football Playoff? All of those stud recruits from the 2013 class will be juniors and the schedule isn't daunting relative to the rest of the SEC.

With Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State in Oxford the first two weeks of the season, whoever wins the job under center will have time to acclimate to the offense -- and by "acclimate" we mean get the ball to Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram. If they get that down going to Alabama in Week 3 and emerge undefeated, would anyone not have Ole Miss in their top five nationally? After that, you'd be looking at a manageable four-game stretch of Vanderbilt, Florida, New Mexico State and Memphis.

If anything, the Landshark Defense should keep Ole Miss in games regardless of the situation on offense. Granted, there will be changes made without longtime starters Cody Prewitt, Senquez Golson and Serderius Bryant, but in all eight starters are back. C.J. Johnson will continue to provide a presence rushing the passer alongside Nkemdiche, and Mike Hilton and Trae Elston will team up with Conner to make for another stingy secondary.

Underclassmen like C.J. Hampton, Rod Taylor and Jordan Wilkins will be counted on more than ever, but with so much high-level talent surrounding them, the big picture is rosy for the Rebs.

What could go wrong

No team's fate in the SEC hangs in the balance more precariously than Ole Miss'.

If Chad Kelly plays well, the Rebs could compete for a national championship. If he doesn't, they could fall short of a New Year's Six bowl altogether.

And unfortunately for Freeze and Ole Miss, Kelly is a walking wild card who no one is sure will turn up on opening day. He was booted from Clemson, survived a season at a junior college and was promptly arrested in December, after all. Even Freeze admitted that his poor decisions "almost cost him" a spot on the team.

"I'm sure hoping and praying like heck that he doesn't embarrass our team, our university and myself," Freeze said. "But that is a possibility. That is certainly something I recognize and I will have to own."

And that comes before the 20-year-old has ever played a down in Oxford.

He may be talented. He may be the key to a title. But boy, is that a lot to swallow.

Besides, other than possessing a strong arm and eye-popping numbers from junior college, what do we really know about him? In his only season playing at Clemson he attempted 17 passes. Even if he stays on the field at Ole Miss, he could just as easily ride the bench as become a star.

Trading the ups and downs of Bo Wallace on the field for the mystery tour of Kelly off it could be a losing battle for Ole Miss long-term.

SEC morning links

December, 29, 2014
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1. Everyone loves a comeback story, so it's nice to hear that Auburn defensive back Jermaine Whitehead is turning things around on the Plains. After a verbal altercation led to a lengthy suspension for one of Auburn's best players, Whitehead is back and his attitude isn't a problem. After missing six games, being relegated to special teams and losing his jersey number, Whitehead has returned as one of the Tigers' top players. He's second on the team with four interceptions and interim defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison told members of the media over the weekend that he's proud of the progress Whitehead has made since his return to the defense on Nov. 9. Speaking of Harbison, he hasn't spoken with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who is lying low until after Auburn takes on Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl on Thursday. Harbison, who coached Auburn's safeties this season, is calling the defensive plays for the Tigers in the bowl game, but along with the other defensive coaches, his future with the Tigers is unknown.

2. If Ole Miss is going to go toe to toe with TCU in Wednesday's Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl showdown, the Rebels will have to get a lot of production from guys not named Laquon Treadwell. OK, that's incredibly obvious, but with their best offensive weapon out, the Rebels are a little limited in what they can do when they get the ball. Quarterback Bo Wallace has made quite the connection with tight end Evan Engram, but he can't do it all. The Rebels will have to run it better than they have -- outside of that masterful performance against Mississippi State -- and they'll need receivers Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo and Markell Pack to step up with Vince Sanders out with an ACL injury. TCU owns one of the nation's most explosive offenses, and while the Rebels aren't devoid of talent to keep up, they'll need to get help from all over against a team that believes it has something to prove in Atlanta.

3. While the future seems bright in Knoxville, and fans are indeed very excited about what 2015 could bring Tennessee's football program, the Vols are very much focused on Friday's Taxslayer Bowl. The Iowa Hawkeyes mean more to this team than anything that could happen after Friday. And that's good because a victory could be a nice uptick for the Vols heading into the spring. It might even help with recruiting. Yes, the prospects for 2015 look good with most of the team's key players returning, but the Vols want a winning season. They want to enter a season that will be full of expectations the right way. I like the direction of this Tennessee program, even though I picked Iowa to win in Jacksonville. ...

Around the SEC
The news of Hugh Freeze signing an extension to stay as Ole Miss' coach for the foreseeable future is incredibly good news for a program that has regained national relevancy under his watch.

It isn't easy to win at a place like Ole Miss, which had been buried in mediocrity before Freeze arrived and still has to play six games in the SEC West. But as Freeze shifts his complete focus to recruiting and an eventual bowl game, he'll do so with a 24-14 record in three seasons and the Rebels' first nine-win season since 2003.

[+] EnlargeOle Miss coach Hugh Freeze
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesHugh Freeze has a 24-14 record in three seasons at Ole Miss and has led the Rebels to three straight bowl games.
In a season in which the SEC West devoured itself, the Rebels went 3-2 against opponents ranked at the time (all in the division) and beat the current No. 1 and No. 4 teams in the country. It was the first time since 1969 they had beaten two top-five teams in a single season.

Because of Freeze's success and his incredibly warm personality, along with a fan base that has totally embraced its native son, there's real enthusiasm for a program that hasn't won an SEC title since 1963 and has never been to Atlanta to play in the SEC championship game.

Freeze's team spent a couple of weeks in the College Football Playoff discussion and he has done a phenomenal job recruiting at a school that isn't used to the collection of athletes Freeze has lured to Oxford. Freeze's historic 2013 recruiting class, which featured the No. 1 overall player (defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche), the No. 1 wide receiver (Laquon Treadwell) and the No. 1 offensive tackle (Laremy Tunsil), is maturing beautifully. Along with tight end Evan Engram, arguably the best at his position in the SEC, and safety Tony Conner, this class has a legitimate championship formula with Freeze returning in 2015.

By all accounts, he'll add to a star-studded foundation with what appears to be exceptional 2015 and 2016 classes. With future NFL players littering his lineup now and in the future, Freeze has ensured that Ole Miss won't be a pushover with him in charge. He could have bolted for a bigger job, but he has unfinished business at Ole Miss he wanted to see through.

And after the coaching job he did and the adjustments he made in 2014, it would be unwise to think Freeze can't have Ole Miss competing for championships.

We all knew the offensive genius Freeze was -- and his Rebels are averaging 443.3 yards per game -- but the development on defense was even more impressive. A season after giving up nearly 24 points per game, Ole Miss leads the nation in scoring defense (13.8 points per game) and touchdowns allowed (18). Ole Miss is allowing just 321.2 yards per game in the process.

There were heartbreaking defeats at the hands of LSU and Auburn. There was a 30-point blowout at Arkansas and the loss of Treadwell for the season. Somehow, Freeze rallied his team to flog the playoff hopes of archrival Mississippi State over the weekend, improving Freeze's record against the Bulldogs to 2-1. The relationship he has with his players and the respect his players have for him are two major reasons why Freeze and Ole Miss are in this position today.

Freeze didn't even think he'd be talking about bowl games until his third year at Ole Miss, but he soon will be discussing his third bowl game with the Rebels and might end up talking about his third straight bowl win.

Before Freeze arrived in Oxford via Arkansas State and the high school football circuit, the Rebels had gone an embarrassing 6-18, with 14 straight SEC losses, in the final two seasons of Houston Nutt's tenure in Oxford.

Freeze, who grew up in Independence, barely an hour outside of Oxford, inherited a program spiraling on and off the field but has it in great position for the present and future. His success at Ole Miss is why his name was linked to the coaching vacancy at Florida. It's a testament to not only him, but his staff and his players and what they've accomplished.

It won't be easy for Freeze to sustain the success he has had with the Rebels, but he has come this far in just three years. Imagine what he could do with time.
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OXFORD, Miss. -- Maybe things would have been different for Mississippi State if it had been placed in the SEC East.

At one point, the fourth-ranked Bulldogs had beaten three top-10 opponents in a row. At one point, this was the No. 1 team in the country. This team had maneuvered its way through the SEC West with just one loss, and in the days prior to Saturday's bout with archrival Ole Miss, the country endlessly debated if Mississippi State would be worthy enough for a spot in the College Football Playoff if it won out.

Now, that's a moot point, because after all the talking and meaningless chatter, football happened. On Saturday, Mississippi State's hopes of sneaking into the playoff vanished with a 31-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.

In the shadow of the Alabamas and LSUs, coach Dan Mullen has built a program that can compete with SEC opponents year in and year out. However, his misfortune is that the year he had easily his most talented team -- and maybe the most talented team in school history -- he had to go through the SEC West, which has ruthlessly cannibalized itself in 2014.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
AP Photo/Thomas GraningA loss to Ole Miss on Saturday knocked Dan Mullen's Bulldogs out of the College Football Playoff picture.
 "10-2 is a dream season for most people. It doesn't even get you the SEC West title," Mullen said.

And it eliminated the Bulldogs from the College Football Playoff.

Saturday's pain for the Bulldogs was the college football world's gain because now the playoff committee has one less one-loss team to sort through when it comes to filling one of those final playoff spots. Baylor, TCU and Ohio State are all yelling "Hotty Toddy" at the top of their lungs, with those clanging cowbells now silent.

But how much of a debate would we have really had? If Mississippi State and the three above mentioned teams had won out, would the Bulldogs even be in the real conversation amongst the committee members? Despite a lone loss to the No. 1 team in the country and escaping the SEC West, Mullen isn't so sure.

"Even if we had won, we might not have had any of that," he said. "Now, we'll never know. I'm sure we made a lot of people around the country happy and a lot of committee members breathe a big sigh of relief right now."

And that shows some of the early flaws in this brand-new playoff system. While we will finally get to see the national championship decided on the field during the last month of the season, the chaos that four deserving one-loss teams would have created shows the holes in this process.

What means more: good wins or good losses?

Does strength of schedule go out the window if your nonconference slate is weak, even though you play in a division that should replace the NFC South in the NFL?

Does a bad loss to Virginia Tech (by Ohio State) mean nothing anymore?

These are just a few questions we'd be asking if the doomsday scenario had played out. We saw one team cut down the chaos a little this weekend, but Mullen said an 11-1 Mississippi State team would have changed the course of the playoff forever because of the controversy it would have created.

"You could go over to our school of engineering, which is one of the best in the country, and have them start figuring out the best formula to get the job done, and I don't know if they would [be able to]," Mullen said.

Well, what if you have eight teams instead of just four? Wouldn't he feel a lot better about his 10-2 team?

"Unless you're [ranked] nine. Right now, I guess I'd be lobbying to be eight," Mullen said.

Saturday also told us we really don't know everything. What's made this season so entertaining is that there isn't a dominant team in college football. Even that undefeated team in Tallahassee, Florida, isn't impressive enough to warrant No. 1 status.

We have one more weekend of football ahead of us, and nothing should be assured or assumed. Mississippi State was supposed to win in Oxford and sit on the cusp of the playoff. Then, Mississippi State's tackling was atrocious and the offense sputtered.

Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott looked anything like an award-winning quarterback for most of the game, and the beat-up Rebels found stars in tight end Evan Engram and running back Jaylen Walton, who combined for 324 yards of offense and had jaw-dropping plays of 83 and 91 yards, respectively.

With hobbled quarterback Bo Wallace toughing it out on a bum ankle, the Rebels rolled up 532 yards of offense and averaged 8.6 yards per play.

Football happened, and Mississippi State was on the wrong end of it … against that school he hates.

"I don't think it takes away from the season. It's just disgusting to lose this game," said Mullen, who fell to 4-2 against Ole Miss. "This game is really not part of the season. It's the Egg Bowl, and it's kind of a bowl game in itself. It's a game that's separate of the rest of the season. It certainly is awful to lose."
OXFORD, Miss. -- After a snoozer of a first half, we had an offensive explosion in the second half, especially from the No. 19 Ole Miss Rebels, who upset No. 4 Mississippi State 31-17. The Rebels weren't playing for an appearance in the SEC title game or a playoff spot, but they were looking to ruin the Bulldogs' season, and they accomplished that.

How the game was won: The Rebels used 24 points and 342 yards yards in the second half to cruise past a Mississippi State team that had issues moving the football on an incredibly aggressive Ole Miss defense. A spectacular 91-yard touchdown run from Jaylen Walton and a nifty 31-yard touchdown pass from running back Jordan Wilkins fueled the Rebels' victory. Ole Miss also stopped Mississippi State on fourth down near the end zone with less than two minutes remaining.

Game ball goes to: Walton and tight end Evan Engram have to share it. Walton's 91-yard touchdown was huge for the Rebels, and he finished the game with a career-high 148 yards. Engram made big play after big play, finishing with five catches for a career-high 176 yards. He also had a long of 83 yards.

What it means: Ole Miss has basically clinched a top bowl game, the Bulldogs are now out of the College Football Playoff and Alabama has clinched the SEC Western Division.

Playoff implication: With the loss, the Bulldogs are out of the playoff hunt, but schools like Ohio State, TCU and Baylor all look better when it comes to that coveted fourth spot.

What's next: The regular season is over for both teams, and they're both likely headed to a top bowl game.

LSU hopes to dodge turnover tidal wave

October, 23, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Football coaches and players discuss the importance of winning the turnover battle, the words can almost ring hollow. But when LSU players say they must protect the football Saturday against Ole Miss, it's more than just an empty football cliché.

The No. 3 Rebels (7-0, 4-0 SEC) have an uncanny ability to swing games by creating turnovers at key moments.

"Their defense are ball hawks," LSU receiver Travin Dural said. "If you're giving your offense the ball on the opponent's side of the field a lot, they're going to score, and that's what they've been doing. We're going to try our best to flip the field as much as we can."

No. 24 LSU (6-2, 2-2) has turned the ball over only nine times this season, and it might need to maintain that trend on Saturday if it is to have any chance of upsetting the Rebels. Not only does Ole Miss lead the nation with 90 points off turnovers, but it has been remarkably consistent.

The Rebels have either scored a defensive touchdown or created a turnover to take control of the contest in each game this season:
  • They were up 14-6 in the fourth quarter of the opener against Boise State when Tony Conner intercepted a pass at the Broncos' 40-yard line. Two plays later, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace hit Quincy Adeboyejo with a 31-yard touchdown pass to go up 21-6.
  • Cornerback Cliff Coleman returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown in Ole Miss' win against Vanderbilt.
  • Cornerback Senquez Golson -- who leads the SEC and is second nationally with seven interceptions -- had a 59-yard pick-six against Louisiana-Lafayette.
  • Ole Miss led Memphis 10-3 a few minutes into the fourth quarter when Ole Miss freshman Marquis Haynes forced a Paxton Haynes fumble that Issac Gross recovered at the Memphis 23. Rebels running back Jaylen Walton ran for a 23-yard touchdown on the next play to put Ole Miss up 17-3.
  • The score was tied at 17-all against Alabama when Crimson Tide return man Christion Jones fumbled a kickoff and Ole Miss' Kailo Moore recovered at the Alabama 31 with 5:29 to play. Five plays later, Wallace hit Walton with the game-winning 10-yard touchdown pass.
  • All-American safety Cody Prewitt returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown and Keith Lewis returned a Kenny Hill fumble 21 yards for a score in the Rebels' win against Texas A&M.
  • Last week against Tennessee, the Rebels were up 17-3 in the third quarter when Volunteers return man Evan Berry fumbled and Haynes recovered at the UT 28. Wallace hit Evan Engram with a 28-yard touchdown pass on the next play to go up 24-3.

In other words, this is a well-established habit for the Rebels, and the Tigers understand that protecting the ball will be particularly important on Saturday.

"We pride ourself on not turning the ball over in the backfield," running back Terrence Magee said. "We work ball security every day before we get into the core of practice, and it's just something that we work on a routine basis. We realize that if we don't turn the ball over and we win the turnover margin, our chances of winning are much greater."

LSU has won or tied in turnover margin in every game this season except last week's 41-3 win against Kentucky. The Tigers have actually been extremely effective themselves at turning takeaways into points, outscoring opponents 72-7 following turnovers -- a differential that ranks third among FBS teams. Only Oregon's plus 79 (79-0) and Ole Miss' plus-71 (90-19) points-off-turnovers margins are better.

LSU has also capitalized off opponent miscues, as the Tigers' game-winning scores against both Wisconsin and Florida came after fourth-quarter interceptions by Jalen Mills and Rickey Jefferson.

That creates a competition of sorts between an LSU secondary that prides itself as being one of the best in the nation and a group of Rebels defensive backs who are tied for the FBS lead with 15 interceptions.

"You could say that," Jefferson said, "but we're looking to be on top. That's what we're trying to do as DBs."

LSU's defensive backs could accomplish that goal by capitalizing on mistakes by Wallace, and he hasn't made many this season. Ole Miss' senior quarterback has tossed six interceptions overall and none in SEC play.

Just as important will be avoiding the back-breaking offensive mistakes that set up short drives for Ole Miss. Understandably, that has been a point of emphasis for the Tigers this week.

"Just end every drive with a kick," Dural said. "Try not to make those mental mistakes to where we give them the ball with a short field."

OXFORD, Miss. -- The last time Ole Miss went to LSU, in 2012, it had no business being in the game. The Rebels were 5-5, playing on the road against a Top 10 team. But when they took the lead in the fourth quarter, first-year coach Hugh Freeze began thinking to himself about what a win would mean for this team and this program if they could hold on.

“I found myself thinking about a statement that Coach [Johnny] Vaught had made when he was here about beating LSU in Baton Rouge: ‘You’ve never truly really coached the Rebels until you’ve beaten LSU in Baton Rouge,’" Freeze said. "I thought that for a minute and tried to get back in the moment because there was way too much time left.”

Shortly after that thought crossed Freeze’s mind, Odell Beckham Jr. returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. It all changed in the blink of an eye. With less than a minute left, LSU scored another touchdown to win the game.

But as Freeze looks back on that night, it’s not necessarily a bad memory. In fact, he says it’s one of the more enjoyable games he’s ever coached in.

“We were super competitive, right there in it,” Freeze said. “Had it not been for a punt return, who knows what the outcome would have been. But I had a blast.”

Quarterback Bo Wallace also remembers the game fondly. Despite three interceptions, it was one of his best performances that first season at Ole Miss. The then-sophomore threw for 310 yards, rushed for 54 yards and scored four total touchdowns. His 30-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief was what gave the Rebels the lead in the fourth quarter.

“I remember the atmosphere,” Wallace said. “We were playing really well. We were young and really didn’t realize what we were doing. To us, it was almost like a moral victory that we went into LSU and we played against those guys the way we did with all of the NFL talent they had on their team.”

Wallace wasn’t kidding either. LSU had nine players taken in the NFL draft after that season, including six defensive players selected in the first three rounds.

But that was then. This is now.

This season, the roles have reversed as the teams prepare to play Saturday. Ole Miss is the Top 10 team, ranked No. 3 nationally, and LSU is the young team with nothing to lose. Ole Miss has the nasty defense full of NFL talent, while LSU has an offense that’s still improving with every game.

The mindset has changed, too. The Rebels are no longer interested in moral victories.

“We don’t talk about going to play anybody close right now,” Freeze said. “We want to get a plan together and prepare like we’re going to win. Hopefully we’ll have a chance in the fourth quarter to do so.”

“When we go down there, we’re going to expect to go in and win a football game,” Wallace added. “There aren’t any moral victories or we go down there, play well and feel good about it. We go down there fully expecting to win.”

That’s easier said than done in this rivalry. The Rebels have lost five of their last six games in Baton Rouge, and current LSU coach Les Miles is 45-4 in night games played at Tiger Stadium.

There are also a number of Ole Miss players, including the entire 2013 recruiting class, who have yet to play in Death Valley. They were a part of the thrilling victory in Oxford last year, but they don’t know what it’s like to play the Tigers on the road.

“I heard about stuff being thrown at you, a lot of words coming at you that I can’t repeat,” sophomore tight end Evan Engram said. “With this rivalry and the tradition that this game holds, I know the stands are going to be rocking and there’s going to be some crazy stuff the fans are going to be doing. But it’s going to be fun.”

For Freeze and the players who were there in 2012, the only way this year’s game is going to be fun is if Ole Miss leaves town with a victory.

Vote: SEC play of the week

October, 19, 2014
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Not quite the excitement we might have hoped for in Week 8. Every game involving an SEC team was decided by double digits and the average margin of victory for the winning teams was 33.5 points. That doesn't mean that there wasn't some spectacular plays seen on the field though. There were quite a few, in fact. Here are our five favorites -- let us know which one you think was the best in the SEC in Week 8.

Davis' sweet stiff arm
South Carolina cruised to a 41-10 win against an overmatched Furman squad and Mike Davis' first touchdown run was evidence of that. In the first quarter, Davis' 5-yard touchdown run included an impressive stiff arm of an unsuspecting Furman defender. He then proceeded to absorb more contact as he dove into the end zone.

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Great return sprung by a great block
Return touchdowns on special teams take great individual effort but also a great team effort from those blocking. That was especially true on this 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by LSU's Tre'Davious White, which was sprung by an impressive block by freshman safety Jamal Adams.

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Sims' dazzling run
Alabama was dominant in its 59-0 win against Texas A&M on Saturday and Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims' touchdown run pretty much summed up the kind of day it was in Tuscaloosa. He juked and juked again to make about six Texas A&M defenders miss and sprinted to the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown.

Murphy to the house
It was all about returns for Missouri on Saturday. In its 42-13 win against Florida, the Tigers had two special teams returns for touchdowns and two defensive returns for touchdowns. Marcus Murphy accounted for the special teams scores, a 95-yard kickoff return to open the game and this 82-yard punt return, which was well done.

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Engram stretches out and hauls it in
Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram is one of the league's best at his position and skills like this are why. Bo Wallace was under pressure, had to heave his pass quickly and though it might have been a tad long, Engram stretched out and dove to make a nice catch and a 28-yard touchdown in the front corner of the end zone late in the third quarter of the Rebels' win against Tennessee.

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It was a defensive struggle early on, but Ole Miss gained some separation in the second quarter and eventually put the game away. There’s a reason the Rebels are ranked No. 3 nationally, and they proved it once again Saturday with a 34-3 win over Tennessee.

How the game was won: One word: Landsharks. This Ole Miss defense lived up to its nickname Saturday night with an absolutely dominant performance against Tennessee. The Rebels finished with nine sacks, three interceptions and held the Volunteers to 189 yards of total offense. There might not be a better defense in all of college football.

Game ball goes to: The pressure created up front was the difference in the game, but how can you not give the game ball to Senquez Golson? The SEC’s interception leader added two more picks, giving him seven on the season. That’s the second most in college football. He just seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

What it means: The Rebels were not as sharp on offense. They struggled out of the gates, and quarterback Bo Wallace completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes. If Saturday’s game showed us anything, it showed us that Ole Miss can still win football games even when the offense is a bit off.

Playoff implication: After back-to-back wins over Alabama and Texas A&M, this was a game in which Ole Miss could’ve let its guard down. But it didn’t. The Rebels took care of business and still control their destiny with just five games remaining. Win them all, and they're looking at the No. 1 seed in the playoff.

Best play: Both of Golson’s interceptions were impressive, but this touchdown catch (below) by Evan Engram took the cake. Ole Miss came out throwing after a turnover, and Wallace threw a ball that most tight ends would have no business catching. Engram isn’t most tight ends. He made an acrobatic catch in the end zone and put the dagger in Tennessee.

video What's next: Ole Miss travels to Baton Rouge next week to face a young LSU team that seems to be improving with every game. The last time the Rebels played in Baton Rouge, they allowed a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds.
 
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s a familiar storyline by now, Alabama attempting to defend the hurry-up, no-huddle.

You know, Nick Saban’s supposed Achilles' heel?

Texas A&M started the talk with Johnny Manziel running laps around the Tide. Then Auburn got on board, punctuated by its last-second miracle on the Plains. Finally, Oklahoma pushed the tempo and won last season's Sugar Bowl, racking up 429 yards of offense. And if you thought it would get better with another offseason to prepare, then the season-opener wasn’t for you. All West Virginia did was march up and down the field in Atlanta, barely missing out on 400 yards of offense thanks to a handful of untimely drops.

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsOle Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell presents a difficult matchup for the Alabama defense.
Saban has defended himself against the less-than-flattering narrative, albeit with mixed results. Because until we see Alabama’s defense actually stop an above-average offense that employs the HUNH (sorry, Florida), we can’t say with any certainty that the riddle has been solved.

That’s what makes this week so important. Against Ole Miss, Alabama will either put the talk to bed or add further fuel to the fire.

The No. 11-ranked Rebels are an up-tempo program, through and through. Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn are buddies, former high school coaches who both believe time spent is time wasted. Bo Wallace, Freeze’s senior quarterback, is in his third year running the HUNH system. With so much familiarity, he can throttle the offense high and low at will. And with the talent surrounding him, there’s no question that Ole Miss’ offense is as dynamic as any Alabama will face this season.

Running back Jaylen Walton is tough to get a hand on, as evidenced by his 6.9 yards per carry coming into this weekend.

Tight end Evan Engram is a matchup nightmare with the size to overpower defensive backs and the speed to run past linebackers.

All wide receiver Cody Core seems to do is catch touchdowns.

Then there’s Laquon Treadwell, arguably one of the top-five receivers in the country. He alone can wreck a secondary.

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“He’s, obviously to me, an outstanding player,” Saban said of the much-heralded sophomore on Monday. “He’s got really good size. He’s a really good athlete. He’s got a big catch radius. He can get in and out of breaks. He plays with a lot of toughness, very physical blocker. So he’s the complete package.”

Said Alabama safety Landon Collins: “He's a very quick receiver, explosive. You get the ball in his hands and he can do basically anything with it. We have a lot of respect for him and we're definitely going to look to him and not turn our backs to him because he can be a game-changer.”

 
But does Alabama have anyone who can actually cover him? That’s the real question.

Cyrus Jones might be up for the task, but he gives up four inches and 25 pounds. Eddie Jackson is the more physical option, but his health is a concern. Then there’s Tony Brown, who is a five-star talent but lacks experience as a true freshman.

To make matters worse, given the way Ole Miss goes without huddling, Alabama doesn’t have the option to put one man on him.

“We went through this last year in a couple of games when we tried to put a guy on a guy in a game of no-huddle and it really is difficult for the corners to get lined up, so you really can’t,” Saban explained. “I think whoever is on him is going to have to study him and play him and play him well and keep him cut off. ... He’s an outstanding player and that’s a difficult task.”

Whether it’s the unenviable job of stopping Treadwell or the much-talked-about issues with the hurry-up, no-huddle, Alabama is used to a challenge. After so many wins and so many national titles, doubters come with the territory.

According to Collins, it’s just motivation.

“Everybody is going to doubt how we play or how we come out or any aspect of our game,” he said. “We're always going to have that. That's Alabama. We just take that into consideration and use that to push us and motivate us moving forward.”

Why Ole Miss can upset Alabama 

September, 30, 2014
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Bo Wallace, Ole MissThomas Graning/AP ImagesBo Wallace's impressive QBR numbers suggest he could lead the Rebels to a win at home.
Ole Miss could be embarking on one of the most successful seasons in the program’s history.

The Rebels are 4-0 for the first time since 1970 and have a top-10 ranking in the Associated Press poll for only the second time in the past 44 years. To top it off, ESPN’s "College GameDay" crew is headed to the Grove for the first time in the pregame show’s history, as the Rebels host Alabama in one of the most important games ever played in Oxford.

Since Alabama has won the past five meetings between these teams by a combined score of 155-34, many may be writing this game off as one of those early season tests the Tide tends to pass with ease.

Anyone with that mindset would do well to reconsider.
Players like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Cameron are frustrating defenses and changing offenses in the NFL.

Having that big, powerful tight end who can knock defenders around and stretch the field is turning into more of a necessity for NFL offenses, and college coaches are taking notice.

“I definitely think it's a trend going on right now,” Vanderbilt tight end Steven Scheu said. “Tight ends are starting to become just a larger receiver, quite honestly, especially when you have guys who are tight ends in the NFL trying to get their contracts signed as a wide receiver because they're taking most of their snaps out wide."

In the SEC, most coaches are on board with having that lovely mismatch of size and athleticism lining up inside. Finding multifaceted players who create advantageous mismatches is the name of the game.

[+] EnlargeJake McGee
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIThe Gators were eager to add former Cavaliers TE Jake McGee, who beings a new dimension to their offense.
The use of the tight end as more of a blocker has become more a part of how NFL offenses operate over the past few years, especially with the emergence of these hybrid players.

In 2011, 14 tight ends ranked inside the top 50 in the NFL in receiving. Those tight ends were targeted 1,526 times and caught 1,006 passes for 12,422 yards and 91 touchdowns. Last year, the NFL saw nine tight ends rank in the top 50 in receiving, catching 723 passes for 8,686 yards and 85 touchdowns. Those tight ends were targeted 1,088 times.

For the SEC, eight tight ends ranked among the top 50 in the league in receiving in 2011. Those eight tight ends caught 233 passes for 2,771 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Those numbers have dropped in the last couple of years, as only three tight ends ranked inside the top 50 of the SEC in receiving yards last season, after five ranked in the top 50 in 2012.

But coaches see those numbers increasing in the coming years, as the tight end becomes more valued. There's a reason Florida coach Will Muschamp jumped at the chance to sign former Virginia tight end Jake McGee, who can play inside and outside and caught 71 passes for 769 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two years at Virginia.

To Muschamp, that kind of player changes blocking schemes for defenses, creating more holes and space for the offense, and can take bigger linebackers and safeties out of plays.

“That changes run gaps, that creates an extra gap,” Muschamp said. “It also creates an extra gap away from the quarterback. From a protection standpoint and a run-game standpoint, it does some good things to be able to utilize a tight end in the game.

“To be able to match up on a linebacker -- to have a guy who athletically is superior to a safety -- and to be able to find those matchups is huge.”

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin didn't use much of a flex tight end at Houston, but emphasized them more as an offensive coordinator at A&M and Oklahoma. He could do it again this year with the 277-pound Cameron Clear and deep threat Ricky Seals-Jones playing inside.

Mississippi State owns one of the leagues most consistent players in Malcolm Johnson (768 career yards), and rival Ole Miss has the perfect safety net in flex Evan Engram.

Arkansas' best receiving threat might be sophomore Hunter Henry, who averaged 14.6 yards per catch last year.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has had a ton of success with tight ends and hopes to make up for his losses at receiver by using his tight ends and bigger receivers inside.

South Carolina has thrived by using Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams to stretch the field the last couple of years. Anderson has averaged 17.8 yards per catch on 39 receptions, while Adams has averaged 16.3 on 17 catches.

Alabama's Nick Saban is even getting in onthe fun with freak sophomore athlete O.J. Howard lining up at tight end.

“Having a guy like that, really there's a lot of multiples in terms of how you can use him and create problems for the defense to have to adjust to him,” Saban said.

More and more, coaches are seeking tight ends with receiver skills, but who like to block. Some players are noticing that that quality makes them even more dangerous.

“It definitely intrigues not only me but people around me, my colleagues I guess, my fellow tight ends,” Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah. “It's a lot more fun to be integrated in an offense and be moved around a lot. I think it definitely throws defenses off, not knowing where exactly you're going to line up a linebacker or a safety on them or what the offense is going to do. I'm definitely noticing that a little bit more.”
HOOVER, Ala. -- Evan Engram might have been one the most underrated true freshman in the SEC last season. Of course it didn’t help that he rolled his ankle and missed five games, and when he did return for the Music City Bowl he simply wasn’t 100 percent. But when he was on the field and healthy, he was the type of pass-catching threat that makes defenses cringe. At 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, he had the build of a tight end and the athleticism of a receiver. On a team with Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell, he had 20 receptions and three touchdowns in seven games before being sidelined.

[+] EnlargeEvan Engram
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsTight end Evan Engram had 20 receptions and three TDs in seven games for Ole Miss last season.
Coach Hugh Freeze’s eyes lit up when asked about Engram at SEC media days this month. The guru of the Rebels’ offense couldn’t hide his enthusiasm; he couldn’t wait to see his promising tight end back on the football field this season. When Engram went out last season, Freeze had to turn to two walk-ons at the position. Though he “loved having them” and praised their effort, they were no replacement for Engram. It got to the point that from Week 8 on, Ole Miss released its pregame depth chart with three receivers, two running backs and no tight ends.

“I cannot overstate it,” Freeze said of Engram’s absence. “We changed last year when he went out. We were not the same.”

Early on against Vanderbilt, Texas, Auburn and Texas A&M, Ole Miss averaged 466 yards and 35.75 points per game. Week 7 against LSU -- the same game Engram rolled his ankle in the second half -- the Rebels racked up 525 yards and 27 points in a dramatic upset victory. But down the stretch in losses against Missouri and Mississippi State, the offense faltered, failing to score more than 10 points in either game. Without Engram, there was no one to work the middle of the field and keep the safeties honest. Quarterback Bo Wallace began forcing the ball and threw six interceptions in November alone as the Rebs limped to an 8-5 finish.

A healthy Engram should mean greater consistency for Ole Miss in 2014. He and fellow freshman Treadwell are a year wiser, and Wallace’s arm is finally back to 100 percent after never fully rehabilitating from shoulder surgery prior to last season. Moncrief might be off to the NFL now, but there is plenty to like about the depth of the receiving corps, especially 6-foot-3 sophomore Quincy Abedoyejio, whom Wallace said is the best route-runner and the fastest receiver of the bunch.

Even though the receivers deserve their fair share of acclaim, don’t sleep on Engram. He might not be a household name yet, but to the people who matter most he’s held in high esteem. As junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said, “I think it will be key to keep him healthy.”

“Evan is a little faster than people give him credit for, I think,” Johnson added. “He’s tough, really long, really athletic, has good hands. He can really cause some problems in the slot.

“Having Evan and the skill set he has is pretty special.”

Asked in May what Engram brings to the table, offensive coordinator Dan Werner said simply, “The fact that he’s almost a wide receiver.”

“He’s got the talent of a wide receiver, but he’s more physical so he can play inside. Now we’re getting him matched up on linebacker and safeties a bunch. That’s just a total mismatch.”

But it’s not just Engram who is poised to wreak havoc on SEC defenses this season. The entire league seems to be strong at tight end. When the John Mackey Award watch list came out last month, Engram and six other SEC players were on it: Rory Anderson, Hunter Henry, O.J. Howard, Malcolm Johnson, Jay Rome and C.J. Uzomah. The seven total selections (compared to five the year before) were more than any other conference in college football.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 23, 2014
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Between Steve Spurrier taking jabs at Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban opening up about where his dance moves originated, Tuesday was quite a day on ESPN's "Car Wash." At one point, the two shared the desk on "College Football Live."

 

The coaches have all returned to their schools, and fall camp is just around the corner. Be sure to read Wednesday's lunch links for the latest news and notes around the SEC.

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