Memphis has a new coach in Ryan Silverfield, but high expectations still surround this team after finishing 2019 as the highest-ranked Group of 5 team and earning a trip to the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers are once again led by a high-powered offense that features quarterback Brady White and running back Kenneth Gainwell, while the defense features seven returning starters from a group that limited teams to 26.4 points a game last fall. Even though Memphis lost to Penn State in the Cotton Bowl, the New Year's Six contest was a good showing for Silverfield in his first game on the sidelines for the Tigers. However, the challenge over a full season won't be easy in 2020. The Tigers begin the post-Mike Norvell era locked into a tight battle for the top spot in the AAC behind UCF and Cincinnati.
Previewing Memphis' Offense for 2020
New coach Ryan Silverfield began his tenure following the departure of Mike Norvell to Florida State by displaying his skills as a recruiter. Silverfield got receiver Damonte Coxie and quarterback Brady White — two seniors — to return following the most successful season in the program’s history. The Tigers earned the school’s first New Year’s Six Bowl, making a trip to the Cotton Bowl following a victory over Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference title game.
In White and Coxie — along with running back Kenneth Gainwell — Silverfield has the foundation of a prolific offense in place. White passed for 4,014 yards and 33 touchdowns, becoming only the second player in school history to pass for 4,000 yards; Coxie caught 76 passes for 1,276 yards and nine TDs; and Gainwell rushed for 1,459 yards, tops among the nation’s freshmen.
The offense also will be bolstered by the return of three starters on the offensive line and the return of tight end Sean Dykes and receiver John “Pop” Williams. Dykes and Williams are coming back from season-ending injuries.
Previewing Memphis' Defense for 2020
The departure of Norvell caused several of his Memphis assistants to follow him to FSU, including defensive coordinator Adam Fuller. But Silverfield filled the opening with Mike MacIntyre, a former two-time national coach of the year (San Jose State, Colorado) who spent 2019 as the Ole Miss defensive coordinator. MacIntyre inherits a unit that returns seven starters, among them defensive back T.J. Carter, a key piece in a deep secondary. Carter suffered a season-ending injury in the regular-season finale against Cincinnati and missed the league championship game and the Cotton Bowl. He will be back to lead a defense that created turnovers but yielded too many big plays.
Up front, the Tigers are solid with the return of linemen Joseph Dorceus and O’Bryan Goodson. Dorceus ranked second on the team with 14.5 tackles for a loss. At linebacker, J.J. Russell is back after posting 58 tackles in back-to-back seasons.
Previewing Memphis' Specialists for 2020
Silverfield retained position coach Pete Lembo, who was a nominee for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant. Under Lembo’s direction, the Tigers returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and finished second nationally in the ESPN special teams efficiency rankings. The return game should be solid with Williams back to handle punts and Gabe Rogers handling kickoffs. Rogers returned the first kickoff of his career last year 99 yards for a TD against Navy. Kicker Riley Patterson and junior punter Adam Williams also return.
Memphis will be poised to repeat as AAC champions behind the wealth of talent returning on offense and the addition of MacIntyre as defensive coordinator. White begins his third season as the starter following an impressive 2019, which ended with a 454-yard passing performance in the Cotton Bowl against Penn State. To make a fourth straight conference championship game — and a second straight New Year’s Six Bowl — the defense holds the key. MacIntyre is a strong hire for Silverfield, not only as a coordinator, but also as a mentor, as he brings 10 years of head-coaching experience.
National Ranking: 28
(Top photo courtesy of Memphis Athletics)