War Eagle Extra

Ole Miss team struggles to stay together

Mississippi tight end Evan Engram (17) catches for a big gain against Arkansas on Oct. 15.
Mississippi tight end Evan Engram (17) catches for a big gain against Arkansas on Oct. 15. AP

The Ole Miss football team is having the kind of season Auburn endured last year.

Preseason expectations have given way to crushing disappointment as Ole Miss has fallen from No. 11 ranked team in the country with championship aspirations to the basement of the SEC West.

A bowl berth isn’t even a guarantee anymore for coach Hugh Freeze’s team following back-to-back losses to Arkansas and LSU. Ole Miss has reached the postseason in each of Freeze’s four seasons with the program, but the Rebels will need to win three of their last five games to keep the streak alive.

Auburn comes to town with the programs going in opposite directions. The Tigers are riding a wave of success back to national prominence with coach Gus Malzahn even gaining midseason buzz as a coach of the year candidate.

Ole Miss doesn’t want to become another hood ornament on Auburn’s ride back to the top, but Rebels players are struggling to put a string of recent disappointments behind them.

Tight end Evan Engram detailed the team captains’ attempt at rallying the troops in a Tuesday press conference.

According to the Oxford Eagle, Engram along with quarterback Chad Kelly and defensive end Marquis Haynes gathered the team for an important players-only meeting aimed at keeping the locker room together.

“We were able to be transparent with each other,” Engram said. “It was just us guys in here just talking it out, and I think it helped us a lot. We’re not out. We’re not down. There’s no sense of giving up. Just a little crushed. We didn’t expect this, so as competitors, it’s a little upsetting. But I couldn’t be more pleased with how the team was today just attacking the day from workouts to meetings to practice today.”

Freeze told his players they have “got to fight” through the feeling of disappointment if they want to avoid an embarrassing loss like the one Arkansas suffered last week.

“I’ll put it in baseball terms, we can’t afford right now — with the issues that we may have at certain positions or talent level compared to others — we can’t afford to throw 75 mph on the corner of the plate and get by,” Freeze said. “We have to throw 96 mph on every single play to be able to compete and have a chance to win some of the games that we are in right now.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra