Beyond the University of Memphis Tiger’s dominant 42-17 win over Nicholls State University, the game registered as a step toward normalcy – for now – after disruptions caused by the COVID-19 virus.
There were no special seating restrictions for the 30,263 fans at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, tailgating was allowed and the team took its traditional Tiger walk before Saturday night’s game, the first of the season for both teams.
For the Tigers, the 16th consecutive home win delivered measurable success in key areas.
“I was pleased with how the offensive line performed,” said head coach Ryan Silverfield. “We ran the ball more effectively. Calvin Austin’s run blocking was as improved as anything in a player’s game. We had an eight-man rotation with the offensive line.”
The football Tigers entered the season with a lot of questions. Seth Henigan, a true freshman, may give the Tigers’ fans some reason for calm as he grows into his role as a starting quarterback. He is the first true freshman to start a game as Memphis’ quarterback in 10-plus years.
Henigan did not disappoint. He had a solid game in his debut, passing for 265 yards on 19 completions and threw his first collegiate touchdown.
The depth chart released a few days before the game listed Henigan as either/or. During pregame workout, the other projected starter, Grant Gunnel, was dressed in shorts. Gunnel, according to Silverfield, will be out for at least a couple more weeks.
“As I continued to get reps in fall camp, I could see what was going on with the coaches’ minds,” said Henigan in reference to being named the starter. “When the coaches told me (about starting) mid-week, I just rolled it from there.”
The college-level game began to “slow down for me in fall camp,” said Henigan. “I enrolled in the spring, which was a big learning curve for me. As fall camp came, I became strong and I knew everything. I just had to prove to my teammates that I am a player.”
The Tigers’ offense did not have to punt all game, a fortunate occurrence since injuries had forced Joe Doyle into the role of handling punting and field-goal kicking. He connected on five of five field goals, finishing with 18 points.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Thomas brought brute strength to the team’s running game. He rushed for 147 yards and scored a touchdown on 16 carries. It was the most yards for a Memphis running back in nearly two years.
The Tigers’ offense generated 587 net yards – 322 rushing and 265 through the air.
Javon Ivory had 106 yards on six receptions. Calvin Austin III netted six receptions for 47 yards and one touchdown reception.
Ivory plays “a big game for a big receiver,” said Silverfield. “Javon came on as the year ended last season. I am pleased with him. I know he is going to have a great year.”
On defense, Sylonte Oliver capped off a good effort with an interception with 1:40 left in the game. After allowing the Colonels to score on their opening drive, the defense shut them down.
The Tigers are set for a 60-mile trip to Jonesboro, Arkansas to face Arkansas State University on Saturday (Sept. 11). The Tigers defeated the Red Wolves 37-24 in Memphis last season.
This is a big game for ASU. The team has several players from the Memphis area who were recruited by the Tigers.
The game is scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN-plus.
Nicholls State, which is located in Thibodaux, Louisiana, was scheduled to remain in Memphis for the rest of the week because of the damaged caused by Hurricane Ida.
- Thomas made the AAC Honor Roll for his performance.
- Doyle was named the AAC Special Teams Player of the Week.