Memphis finished 6-6 and 3-5 in conference play after announcing the canceled Hawaii Bowl game in 2021. Those five losses in the conference were the most since the 2013 season when they finished with 7. When you look at the recent history of this program, last season was almost a shock to some. What happened to the Memphis teams of years past? Are they that far away from their Cotton Bowl appearance? This team looks to answer these questions in 2022 with an improved season. How improved can they be?
Tiger fans will see new faces on the sidelines this season, which may be a breath of fresh air for some. Ryan Silverfield, now in his 3rd season at the helm, changed his staff in the offseason. These changes were in two key coordinator positions. In what will be a pivotal season, these will need to be hirings that fit the culture and improve the performance on the field. Who did Silverfield bring in?
Tim Cramsey – Offensive Coordinator
Memphis hired Tim Cramsey to fill the void when Kevin Johns left for the same position at Duke. Cramsey comes in from Marshall, who served in the same place for the last four seasons. In 2021 the Thundering Herd threw for over 30 for 3,627 yards and rushed for 2,111 under the tutelage of Cramsey. The multitude of talent on this Tiger offense should make the transition easy for Cramsey and could end up being a great match this season.
Matt Barnes – Defensive Coordinator
Defensively Memphis lost Mike Macintyre, who left for the head coach position at Florida International. In comes Matt Barnes from Ohio State University. Barnes served as their special team and defensive coordinator for the final five games of a defense that allotted an average of 127 yards rushing and 246 yards passing per game. Barnes has youthful protection to mold how he sees fit in what could be a breakout season for this unit. Both coordinators will look to utilize the talent on the roster and improve play on both sides of the ball. There will be changes under these new coaches, and their effect on the team could be monumental.
What Changes will we see on the field?
The defense will see a new scheme implemented under Barnes as the Tigers will have more of a four-person front this season. This change will enhance the young talent in this unit to shine. I have interviewed players in this unit who are excited about this season and are eager to put it all together on the field and show that 2021 is not the identity of this defense.
On the line, we will see junior defensive end Wardalis Ducksworth, who started 11 games and had 34 tackles and four sacks last season, will be joined at the bookend by junior Jaylon Allen, who started five games and had 37 tackles and was the team leader with five sacks. This 4-man front will give the Tigers a more formidable pash rush this season after zero pressure in 2021. Defensive tackles CamRon Jackson and Maurice White will need to be more productive than their 9 and 12 tackles last season for this unit to have a solid season.
At the linebacker position, the Tigers returned their number three and four tacklers in nickel Rodney Owens and middle linebacker Xavier Cullens. They added some talented pieces through the transfer portal. In comes Syracuse’s number four tackler from 2021, Geoffrey Cantin-Akru, to fill a massive hole left by departing JJ Russell. In his nine starts for the Orangemen, Akru accumulated 107 tackles, five sacks, and five tackles for loss. This unit will be one to watch this season as they have the potential to be the best unit in this entire defense.
The Memphis secondary is loaded with skilled players and future NFL talent. It all starts with junior free safety Quindell Johnson who was named a second-team all-conference by Phil Steele and finished 2021 with 104 tackles, 20 pass deflections, and 4.5 tackles for loss. He, along with returning corner Greg Rubin and former Michigan State transfer Julian Barnett will look to give offenses fits all season. This unit has the most talent on it, but they will be as advertised, and I do not see them being as impressive as the linebackers for this defense.
After starting ten different players at quarterback during the 2009-2013 seasons, Memphis has had only three in the last seven seasons. In 2021 the Tigers found not only the right man for the position but also quite possibly the next great to come through the Bluff City. This position room is quite profound for the first time in many years. Will Tiger fans continue to see growth from this position?
Seth Henigan grew up in front of everyone in the 2021 season by throwing for3,322 yards with a 60% rate while tossing 25 Tds with eight interceptions. Henigan will have to mesh with more targets this season than last. If we can continue to see him manage this offense, there will be many more highlights from this young man in 2022. Memphis brought in local talent Tevin Carter in this season’s recruiting class, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see packages to showcase his skills this season. Tevin will be the future at this position for the Tigers.
The running backs position in recent years has been one of sustained success. In 2021 the Tigers would see the emergence of an incoming freshman in Brandon Thomas started the season red hot, rushing for 147 and 191 yards in the first two games. After injuries sidelined him for the remainder of the season, Thomas is looking to finish in 2022. The Tigers will return Rodriguez Clark, who rushed for 387 yards and was the Tigers’ number two rusher of last season. Memphis welcomes Jayvon Ducker from Northern Illinois to bolster this position. The MAC freshman of the year comes into Memphis after 2021, where he rushed for 1,184 yards in his nine starts. This position will be just fine in 2022, and I look for them to get back to their running ways. Do not be shocked if one may make another trip to Mobile and more.
The tight end and wide receiver positions lost a lot following last season. Speedster Calvin Austin and Mr. reliable tight end Sean Dykes had outstanding careers at Memphis, but the future is now. The Tigers return their number three and four receivers from a 2021 season that saw many players make names for themselves. Javon Ivory, Eddie Lewis, Roc Taylor, and more will look to light up secondaries with their speed and skill. They will be joined by an Iowa State transfer Joseph Scales who could be an unsung hero for this position. At the tight end, you lose Dykes, but you bring in JUCO talent Anthony Landphere who has the size, speed, and hands to fill that role quickly.
Memphis brought eight transfers from P5 schools last season, but only one saw significant playing time. One of those players was Michigan State Right Tackle Devontae Dobbs, who Memphis will look to make an impact with this season. This unit struggled last year and must improve for this season to be a success. The running game suffered, and Henigan sometimes had to run for his life because of this unit’s inconsistent play. Dobbs, Right Guard Matt Dale, Center Jacob Likes, and others will need to remain healthy and hungry in 2022.
The Tigers saw many injuries during the season. Of these injuries, one of the most impactful was to Kicker Jack Kemp. Kemp came in as a highly touted kicker who became injured early in the season. After that injury, Tennessee transfer Punter Joe Doyle would have to pull double duties, and he impressed, going 7-12 with a long of 51. Kemp would return late in the season and kick 5-7 from the field goal. This position has been crucial for this team in years past as they were just ranked the number 1 unit in the nation in 2019. In 2020 the Tigers ranked 29th; last season, they finished 81st nationally. Regarding a return man, players like Roc Taylor, Eddie Lewis, and others step up and get this team back to their successful ways.
When you look at the returning players in addition to this season’s schedule, it looks like Memphis will continue to improve. The team is 20-3 at home and 18-2 in November since the 2016 season, and both will continue. Memphis gained their 8th consecutive bowl game in 2021, which will continue in 2022. Memphis has the potential to win 8-9 games this season and will open with a trip to Starkville, Mississippi, to take on the Bulldogs of Mississippi State.