Behind Enemy Lines: A Look at Missouri Tight End Albert Okwuegbunam
OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss fans, learn to pronounce his name now – “Oh-quayg-boog-Nom.”
That is the way the college football world has learned to say the name of Missouri’s tight end, Albert Okwuegbunam. It is also the name that will be announced at the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Tigers’ star is 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, has enough speed to get behind secondaries, and has great hands and the agility to make defenders miss him in the open field.
Rebels, think of him as Evan Engram 2.0.
Although his statistics have not been mind-blowing this season, Okwuegbunam is an elite weapon in the Tigers’ passing attack–especially in the red zone.
While he has just 180 yards receiving this season, nearly half of his receptions (12) have gone for touchdowns (five).He only notched six all last season but had 11 in 2017 (fifth most in school history) and has scored in his last four games of this year.
Okwuegbunam is the best tight end to come from Mizzou since Pro Football Hall of Famer, Kellen Winslow. He went to the San Diego Chargers in the first round of the 1979 draft. Okwuegbunam might follow in Winslow’s footsteps.
A Mackey Award Finalist last season, Okwuegbunam is listed as the top draft-eligible tight end this season by collegefootballnews.com, USA Today’s draftwire.com, waltercamp.com and draftek.com. Okwuegbunam is ranked second by draftblaster.com behind Jared Pinkney of Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss held Pinkney to just one catch for seven yards in last week’s 31-6 win over Vandy. The Rebs are now 3-3, 2-1 in Southeastern Conference play.
Rebels’ head coach Matt Luke holds the Mizzou offense in high esteem as well as Okwuegbunam.
“Offensively, they’re very physical. They have the best tight end we’ve played yet, (he’s) very, very good.”
Coach Matt Luke on Albert Okwuegbunam and Mizzou offense
High praise since the Rebels faced Pinkney just last week.
But that adulation has been duly earned by Okwuegbunam. Twice in his career he has caught three touchdown passes in a game, once against Idaho and once against Memphis.
Last week his numbers were down as the Tigers trounced Troy, 42-10. The Springfield, Ill., native only had two catches for 23 yards, but one of those catches was in the end zone as he ran past a Trojan defensive back and showed his agility by shuffling his feet near the end line to stay in bounds for the touchdown.
Mizzou's Albert Okwuegbunam already has five touchdowns this season, and today's was one of his best for the Tigers. Somehow, Albert O managed to get one foot inbounds.
— Tyler Murry (@TylerJMurry) October 6, 2019
His stats last week are misleading. Missouri scored 42 first-half points to lead comfortably at the break.
In the second period, quarterback Kelly Bryant went down with a knee injury and Mizzou coach Barry Odom decided to keep his starters on the sideline the rest of the game.
Still, the Tigers picked up 443 total yards, 278 through the air with 18 different receivers catching passes.
Okwuegbunam and his offensive cohorts will be a challenge for a young Ole Miss secondary.
Missouri is averaging 264 yards per game passing, 457 total. The Rebels are surrendering 296 through the air each game and 395 overall.
Mizzou is 4-1 on the year (1-0 in the SEC) and has won four consecutive games, all at home, after losing the season-opener at Wyoming. The Tigers are also 18-7 in their last 25 games, ninth best in the FBS.
The game, which is the Missouri homecoming contest, is set to kickoff at 6 p.m., and will be aired on ESPN2.
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.