Engram leads the SEC with 590 receiving yards this season
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
If Hugh Freeze’s offense can best be described as “basketball on grass,” that’d make tight end Evan Engram the freakishly-athletic stretch power forward who can do damage from anywhere on the court.
The 6-foot-3 senior has emerged as Chad Kelly’s favorite target this season. At 98.3 receiving yards per game and five touchdowns, Engram is far and away the leading receiver in the Southeastern Conference’s most prolific passing game.
His 590 receiving yards are the most in the SEC, and the tight end is more than a football field’s worth of yardage ahead of Texas A&M’s Josh Reynolds (488) and Alabama’s Calvin Ridley (477), who place second and third, respectively.
“He’s a huge weapon for them,” sophomore cornerback Donte Jackson said.
Engram, who came into his senior season already a two-time All-SEC selection and the program’s all-time leading pass catcher tight end, has elevated his game to another level this season. He’s totaled at least 82 yards and a score in five of the Rebels’ first six games.
Containing Engram will be a litmus test of how far LSU’s defense has come in that regard since getting torched by Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli for 100 yards on seven grabs in the season opener.
“(Defensive coordinator) Dave (Aranda) has done a tremendous job and he has a game plan to stop it,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “He has acknowledges that Wisconsin had some success with their tight ends. I think you’ll see improved coverage, but (Engram) is a very good player. They use him a lot.”
Versatility may be his most lethal skill.
When lined up as a traditional tight end, Engram can control the middle of the field and is a capable blocker in the run game. He’ll also line up in the slot or split out wide as a receiver. Sometimes they’ll motion him into or out of the backfield.
Moving Engram around the formation accentuates the fact he’s a matchup nightmare. Too fast for linebackers to run with in space. Too big and strong to be brought down by most defensive backs in the open field. He’s both Kelly’s safety blanket and a big-play threat averaging 15.9 yards per catch.
“The way they utilize him, they can move him around a lot,” Jackson said. “Hide him. Just get him the ball in all type of ways. That makes him a huge guy we’ve got to key on. But with our safeties and our linebackers, it’s going to be athletes on athletes.”
Where ever Engram lines up, he’ll likely see a lot of Jamal Adams and John Battle, LSU’s starting safeties. Battle is making his second consecutive start in place of the injured Rickey Jefferson. It’d be a tough ask for linebackers Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley to cover Engram down the field.
Expect LSU to run a number of combinations of coverages at Engram, particularly when he lines up outside. It’ll be interesting to see if LSU deploys either nickelback Dwayne Thomas or even ace cornerback Tre’Davious White to cover play Engram.
The more attention the Tigers are forced to pay to Engram, the more one-on-one opportunities it opens up for the Rebels crew of tall, physical wide receivers. That matchup will go a long way toward determining if Orgeron stays unbeaten as LSU’s interim coach.