First Responder Bowl: First Look At The Memphis Tigers
Utah State is back in a bowl against a Memphis team that may be better than its record indicates. We look at how the Tigers got to bowl season.
These Tigers can still bite.
The Utah State Aggies will close out the 2022 season with an appearance in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl on December 27 against the American Athletic Conference’s Memphis Tigers. Both teams have survived serious trials to make it back to the postseason, which should make for an intriguing battle between two evenly-matched sides.
So what should Aggies fans expect as they prepare for the post-holiday clash? Here is our first look at Memphis.
2022 Memphis Tigers — Team Profile
2022 Record: 7-5 (4-5 Pac-12)
SP+ ranking: 49th (20th offense, 96th defense)
FEI ranking: 59th
Sagarin rating: 59th
Head coach: Ryan Silverfield (third year, 20-16 overall)
2022 in a nutshell: For a time this fall, the Tigers looked like they might be in the mix for another AAC title. They opened the season with a road loss to Mississippi State, then ripped off four wins in a row and cemented a 2-0 start in conference play. However, Memphis was snake bit by tough luck in close games after that, however, losing to Houston, East Carolina, and UCF by a combined ten points during a four-game losing streak.
The Tigers finished the year by winning two of their last three, but the overall result almost certainly wasn’t what fans had in mind three years removed from their Cotton Bowl appearance. The pressure may be on to finish 2022 on a high note and carry some momentum into the new-look American next fall.
Best wins: vs. North Texas (7-6), Tulsa (5-7), Navy (4-7)
S Quindell Johnson
Considered by some to be the best athlete on the Tigers roster, Johnson was one of two Memphis players to land on the AAC’s postseason all-conference team in late November. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished the year with an overall grade of 83.0, good enough to rank seventh among Group of 5 safeties, on the strength of 73 total tackles, five tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and four interceptions. Long story short, he could be making an impact on Sundays this time next year.
THE ONE HAND SNAG FROM QUINDELL JOHNSON 👀 pic.twitter.com/4ftZJReUOA
— Grind City Media (@grindcitymedia) September 10, 2022
TE Caden Prieskorn
The Tigers tight end may not have the flash of past stars like Calvin Austin III or Kenneth Gainwell, but he’s been far and way the team’s most reliable target this fall. He led all AAC players at the position with 46 receptions, 593 yards, and six touchdowns, earning a second-team all-conference nod for his efforts.
LB Xavier Cullens
The man they call “Zay” had himself a big season in the middle of the Memphis defense, leading the team with 104 tackles while picking up 7.5 tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries, and three interceptions… including two pick-sixes. Like Johnson, Cullens can do major damage if the Aggies aren’t prepared.
K Chris Howard
Howard joined Johnson on the AAC first-team all-conference roster after claiming the start job during fall camp. He ended the regular season as one of 12 FBS kickers with 20 field goals, while his 87% field goal rate was second among AAC specialists, including 7-of-9 successes from 40 yards and beyond.
QB Seth Henigan
The Tigers’ sophomore starter had another solid campaign under center, completing 63.8% of his passes for 3,287 yards and 19 touchdowns against an interception rate of 1.9%. Though he didn’t land on the postseason all-conference team like his peers above, he did third among AAC quarterbacks with 49 total pass plays of 20 or more yards, behind only Houston’s Clayton Tune and SMU’s Tanner Mordecai.
Seth Henigan 🤝 Caden Prieskorn
Memphis 17 pic.twitter.com/mDWBQvevPQ
— Erin Wilson (@ewilsontv) October 1, 2022
Where Utah State had to navigate quarterback injuries and other challenges, Memphis had no such issues and may have a substantial advantage… if they can play up to their potential. The Tigers finished the regular season in the top 40 nationally with 2.57 points per drive and 51.9% of available yards earned per drive, but they were often undone by losing the turnover battle: In the team’s six wins, Memphis had just four giveaways; in their six losses, though, the Tigers gave the ball away 11 times.
Henigan, perhaps not surprisingly, had a big hand in this with a 10-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in those wins compared to a 9-to-7 ratio in losses. At his best, however, he enabled the Tigers to share the wealth since no one had more than 600 rushing or receiving yards but four players had at least 200 on the ground and six reached 300 through the air. Chief among that group are the tight end Prieskorn, senior running back Asa Martin (722 all-purpose yards, eight touchdowns), and junior wide receiver Javon Ivory (46 catches, 586 yards, two touchdowns).
On the other hand, that distribution underlies the harder reality that this Tigers offense wasn’t as explosive as in years past. Memphis finished either first or second in the AAC in 20-yard plays from 2016 to 2020, but they ranked eighth in that conference this year with 59 such chunk plays.
Despite the presence of stars like Johnson and Cullens, this unit had some trouble stopping the stronger opponents on its schedule this fall. They allowed 5.31 yards per play, which ranked third in the AAC, but they also gave up over 6.0 YPP against the likes of Mississippi State, East Carolina, and UCF.
One particular issue which might work in Utah State’s favor is that the Tigers often struggled to generate a pass rush, finishing the regular season with a 3.9% team sack rate that ranked 122th overall. Defensive linemen Cormontae Hamilton and Jaylon Allen, who had four sacks each and combined for 13 quarterback hurries, are the players to watch in that regard.
In the defensive backfield, cornerbacks Greg Rubin and Davion Ross finished third and fourth, respectively, among AAC players at the position in overall PFF grading by combining for five tackles for loss and nine passes defended. The Aggies may find it tough to throw the ball against a unit that allowed just seven yards per attempt and led their conference with 13 interceptions.