June 18, 2024

Continuing To Roar – Back In Tiger Blue 

Photo Credits - Madison Penke - Madison Penke Photography
Photo Credits – Madison Penke – Madison Penke Photography

Continuing To Roar – Back In Tiger Blue 

The Memphis Tigers are a program many of the nations ‘talking heads’ seem to be mentioning with consistency recently. This conversation is in large part due to the 36-26 victory over Iowa State in last season’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl for the Tiger’s 10th win of 2023. With these results, Memphis has awakened a renewed sense of excitement around this team. A team that last season became the 5th team in Memphis program history with 10 wins in a season. This feat had only been accomplished by the 1938, 2014, 2017, and 2019 teams prior. With the wins come expectations. Tigers head coach, Ryan Silverfield clapped back at some naysayers and his team won their biggest bowl game in program history. 

Memphis has become a program of consistency over the last 10 seasons and we do not see 2024 being any different. 

– Photo Credits – Madison Penke / Madison Penke Photography

The Memphis roster is stacked with talent all over the field. We will highlight some Tigers who will return and are looking to Roar even louder in what can be a special season for this program. We will look at the quarterback position, consistency in the wide receiving corps, stability in the running backs, a defense anchored in the middle, and how these returning talents can reproduce even more wins this season. 

Seth Is Back To Keep Slinging It 

We have no choice but to start with the heart of this program. That is the quarterback, Seth Henigan who will now be in his senior year at Memphis. Henigan, who is now the all-time career passing yards leader, with 10,764 yards, returns to lead a high-powered offense into 2024. The right-hander from Denton, Texas, will look to continue his historic run in the bluff city.

In what is a wild story of ‘What Ifs” Henigan was thrust into the starting role as a true freshman.  We would see Henigan when former Memphis QB, Grant Gunnell, would become injured in the week leading to the opening game. Henigan would step in and show the poise and control Tiger fans have come to cherish in this critical position. Coming into the 2023 season, Henigan was the nation’s youngest third year starter yet watching him you would have thought he was a 6-year senior. This speaks to the young man and his love for being the best Memphis quarterback he can be. He puts the program, city, and team on his back when he plays the game as we have learned through multiple conversations with Henigan in his tenure. 

Photo Credits – Madison Penke – Madison Penke Photography

Memphis Offensive Coordinator, Tim Cramsey, would say when talking about Henigan and his trust that “He has never given any player as much control to make his own checks in his career” in a recent press conference. Cramsey would also speak to the importance of Henigan creating a comradery between him and his offensive teammates. If 2023 and the 3,883 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, and a 66.8% passing rating from Henigan are any indication it seems 2024 could be even more special. 

We spoke about the wealth of talent around Henigan, now let’s learn about some wide receivers looking to continue their climb through the Memphis record books. 

Trio Of Talented Receivers 

The talent starts with the wide receivers for Memphis. This group is anchored by three returners looking to claw the secondary of the opposing defenses in 2024. This trio understands that the work for this program is not complete. These players know some goals have never been possible to achieve but are now very real. More importantly, this trio knows that each of them demands attention from every defensive coordinator on the Memphis schedule because they are all weapons. 

We start with Koby Drake a product of White Hall, Arkansas, and White Hall High School. Drake has become a fan favorite in his four seasons with the Tigers. These fans would see Drake come alive in 2023 with 33 catches for 352 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 12 games he appeared in. The reliable target for Henigan will look to continue his growth in the offense and make more exciting and critical plays. Drake will be a player many around the nation may become familiar with in 2024. 

Next, we discuss the speedy senior from Oxford, Alabama in Roc Taylor. The number one target last season was owned by Taylor. His 69 catches for 1,069 yards with 4 touchdowns back this statement up with ease. With the 2023 season and his stats, Taylor is now the 5th Tiger all-time to have over 1,00 yards in a season. The aforementioned 69 catches notches Taylor the 9th most catches in a Memphis season. We will keep a keen eye on Taylor to see if, or when, he can surpass 1,000 yards in 2024. We would almost guarantee it barring any unforeseen issues. Taylor is the go-to man. 

As we rounded out the trio we saved the most intriguing for last. DeMeer Blankumsee came to the Tigers via the portal and the Toledo Rockets. In the lone season in Memphis DeMeer would electrify the fanbase with a 53-catch 901-yard performance. More impressive than his 7 touchdowns on the season was his per catch yardage which was 17 yards. This trajectory heading into 2024 has all eyes from us on DeMeer to not only repeat his performance but to become the 6th Tiger with 1,000 yards in a season. 

Yes, this would mean that we are projecting the Memphis offense to have not one but two 1,000-yard receivers in 2024. What other weapons could this offense possibly have? We find out as we look at the running backs and stability at the position. 

Stability At Running Back 

The running back position has become a staple of the talented offenses in Memphis. We have seen such talents recently such as Darrel Henderson, Tony Pollard, Kenneth Gainwell, and most recently, Blake Watson, be valuable assets to their teams in the NFL. With this, Memphis will need to continue to produce such talents in the future for this position to remain stable. When it comes to stability the Tigers have plenty in the running backs room. 

Photo Credits – Madison Penke – Madison Penke Photography

We will start with some returners in the backfield for Memphis and first has to be the loyal Brandon Thomas. Thomas, a redshirt senior from North Little Rock, Arkansas, is looking to get back to his 2021 yards and production. Thomas, who has 1,1139 career yards, which ranks 31st all-time, along with 26 touchdowns for Memphis, is looking to close his career as a Tiger with more yards and possibly a season that garners eyes from the NFL. Thomas is currently the 32nd Memphis running back in all-time yards and with a strong season could move his way into the top 15 and possibly top 10 before leaving Memphis. 

Another returning force in the backfield is junior Sutton Smith from Powder Springs, Georgia. The shifty and speedy back solidified himself as a weapon in triple fashion. Smith would rush for 305 yards on 63 carries and have some clutch runs in the above-mentioned win over Iowa State. In addition to the uptick in yardage in year two, Smith would prove a reliable target out of the backfield as a pass catcher. To further this point, the then-sophomore would have 18 catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Cramsey will be looking for Smith to continue to mature in this potent offense and based on the trajectory of his play thus far we could see a special season. 

Photo Credits – Madison Pemke – Madison Penke Photoagraphy

With other additions as well as this returning duo we project a talented running back stable from Memphis in 2024. This, plus a retooled and reinforced offensive line, could make Henigan’s position much easier and open the already-mentioned high-powered offense even more potent. More importantly, Memphis football gets back to what they have always wanted their identity to be and that is a team that can run the ball effectively and with consistency. 

Martin Anchors Defense 

As strong as the offense is we cannot forget about the defense. When we look at the defense and the returning players on man mans the middle of our minds and that is linebacker, Chandler Martin. Martin, the junior from Lithonia, Georgia, would come to the Tigers before last season from East Tennessee State via the portal. What an asset Martin would become as he would finish 2023 with 95 tackles, with 66 being solo, along with 3 sacks, and 2 interceptions.

Photo Credits – Memphis Media Dept

Martin would solidify himself as the leader of the Tigers defensively with his play and leadership abilities in crucial situations throughout the season. With the talented linebacker only being a junior we can expect his production to continue to climb. With performances such as his Liberty Bowl and Memphis Bowl record with 5 tackles for loss in the Memphis win. In addition, this ranks 5th all-time for Memphis in a game. 

Martin and this defense want to prove that the bowl performance was no one off and 2024 will be much of the same. With the new scheme from Jordan Hankins and staff, this defense is also loaded with talent and depth at numerous positions. This is one group we will be watching with a close eye to see how they improve. With continued improvement, this defense could remind some Memphis fans of some early 2000 teams with their play. 

Could Wins Return In 2024? 

Can Memphis continue their current streak of 10 consecutive bowl games? We simply and swiftly answer this with YES!

– Photo Credits – Madison Penke / Madison Penke Photography

Not only do we project a bowl but, possibly, a high-profile bowl, or more, if the above-mentioned talent plus new additions can mesh and win. Memphis is looking to run it back with more wins and even brighter trophies on its horizon. We mentioned the ‘talking heads’ at the onset of this piece and we have to agree. Memphis looks to have the pieces along with a coaching staff that has the potential to make the first-ever College Football Playoff. For Memphis to do this they will need to reproduce what worked well in 2023. In addition, the Tigers will need to use the latest rounds of realignment and other programs within the conference potentially dropping in wins to their advantage and ruling the American

Win the conference championship and Memphis is playoff-bound!

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