The Moment is here for Memphis Football — Can They Seize It?
Four years ago this week, the 2019 Memphis football team was enjoying an early season bye week after starting 3-0 on the year. Mike Norvell, in his fourth season at Memphis, got sweet revenge in the home opener against the Rebels after losing by 20 points in Oxford during the 2016 season. The Tigers followed up that big victory with two convincing wins over far-inferior competition in Southern and South Alabama. At that time, many around the program may have secretly felt a similar sentiment as the one that has been mentioned by the coaches and players this season — “This could be special”.
While the 2019 Tigers would go on to lose in controversial fashion just three weeks later (Joey caught it), the door of opportunity for a magical season never quite closed in Memphis. Each passing week presented a chance for the Tigers to rise to the occasion, and lucky for Memphis fans, Norvell’s 2019 team did just that. A last-second game-winning field goal shanked wide left in Tulsa, creating what would be the most memorable day in Tiger football history a week later. After a hard-fought victory against the 15th-ranked SMU Mustangs in the national spotlight, Memphis fans started to truly believe that the program could be on its way to historical heights.
Mike Norvell’s last game as a Memphis Tiger ended hoisting a conference championship trophy inside Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, and just five days later, his long-time assistant Ryan Silverfield was named the 25th head coach in Memphis football history. There have been good moments — beating Mississippi State in the first matchup in ten years, beating a ranked SMU team the same season, and two bowl victories — but ultimately, the program and its fanbase yearn for that consistent product they became so accustomed to in the Mike Norvell era.
Now in his fourth year at Memphis, Ryan Silverfield, Seth Henigan, and the Tigers have the perfect opportunity to start that same trajectory that Brady White, Kenneth Gainwell, and company experienced in 2019. Memphis currently sits as the lone undefeated team in the American Athletic Conference. Tulane, UTSA, Boise State, Wyoming, and other potential Group of 5 New Year’s Six representatives have all lost their statement games to the nationally known brands, and the Tigers remain relatively healthy through three weeks of play. To make the stakes even higher, Missouri, the Tigers’ next opponent, will enter The Dome at America’s Center this Saturday with the most hype and attention they’ve experienced in several seasons.
The Ryan Silverfield era has been tagged with several less-than-ideal labels — “they can’t win a game that matters”, “they can’t win on the road”, and “the product has gotten boring”. On Saturday, the program has the opportunity to start shaking each of those criticisms one victory at a time. Simply put, these next three games will either change the tone of the Ryan Silverfield era at Memphis or reaffirm it.
To do so, the Tigers will have to figure out how to stop a second-year quarterback coming off the most impressive performance of his collegiate career. They’ll have to limit the second-highest-rated recruit in Missouri football history, who also had a phenomenal offensive performance in the upset of Kansas State last week. The Tigers will need to find a way to score on a defense that returns eight starters from last season. And oh yeah, they’ll be taking on the great challenge in a raucous road environment in St. Louis.
In a season where many Tiger fans are weary from conference realignment, stadium renovation limbo, and back-to-back subpar seasons, Ryan Silverfield and company have the chance for the stars to align when they need it most. “It’s going to be a battle,” Ryan Silverfield told the media on Monday, “I’m excited about it and I think our guys are up for that challenge”.
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