Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan throws the ball during their game against the SMU Mustangs at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday Nov. 6, 2021.

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Memphis, East Carolina jockey for bowl eligibility in AAC matchup

Consider Saturday’s American Athletic Conference contest between East Carolina and Memphis to be the “bowl eligibility bowl.”

With both teams owning 5-4 records, the winner of the afternoon game at Memphis will become bowl eligible with two games still left to play.

So while neither team will likely make an appearance in the conference championship game, there will definitely be a lot to play for.

“They all know it,” East Carolina head coach Mike Houston said. “Trust and believe me, they all know it. Everybody in Greenville knows it. You have to take care of the game that is ahead of you. Memphis is good. We have to go there for an early kickoff, and they just knocked off a ranked SMU team.”

Indeed, Memphis did, as the Tigers earned a 28-25 home upset last week over SMU behind a good defensive performance and the return of starting quarterback Seth Henigan.

The Tigers (5-4, 2-3 AAC) held SMU to a season-low 323 yards and saw Henigan go 34-of-53 passing for 392 yards and two touchdowns in his return from a shoulder injury.

Memphis is looking to become bowl eligible for an eighth straight year.

“Our guys continue to believe, they continue to work, and they continue to do things the right way,” Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield said. “Sometimes, you just want to see it show up on the field. Nobody is happy with our record, and ultimately that starts with me and the things we wanted to get fixed and corrected. We are still a work in progress. One game is not going to define us.”

On the other side, East Carolina (5-4, 3-2) is looking to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.

The Pirates are coming off a 45-3 rout of Temple at home, led by quarterback Holton Ahlers, who is completing 60.6 percent of his passes this year for 2,179 yards and 14 touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) attempts a pass during the first quarter against the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

No. 23 SMU looking to rebound against Memphis

SMU will look to pick up the pieces after last week’s disheartening loss when it travels to Memphis on Saturday afternoon for an American Athletic Conference game.

The 23rd-ranked Mustangs (7-1, 3-1 AAC) allowed a 100-yard kickoff return with 17 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of a 44-37 setback at Houston last Saturday.

“Yeah, we’ll see where we go from here,” SMU coach Sonny Dykes said. “… It’s just hard to win every game, especially when you’re not one of the elite teams in football from a talent standpoint, know what I mean? Where you can just line up and it doesn’t matter who you play, you’re just going to be better than they are.

“We’re a good football team. We’ve got good players. We’re not going to have 15 first-round draft picks.”

Dykes, however, expressed concern that the dark cloud which followed last week’s loss could carry to Saturday’s game against Memphis (4-4, 1-3).

“It’s like I told our guys, we haven’t been very good after we lose a game, know what I mean?” Dykes said.

“We lost a couple years ago. Didn’t play well at the end of the season in 2019. We lost the Memphis game, and then we lost to Navy a couple weeks later and didn’t play well in the bowl game. Last year, we just didn’t play well at all down the stretch.”

SMU’s Tanner Mordecai has played well this season, ranking second in the nation with 32 touchdown passes. That total is just two shy of Shane Buechele’s school record, set in 2019.

Mordecai on Monday was named one of 15 semifinalists for the 85th Maxwell Award for the Collegiate Player of the Year.

The Mustangs snapped a six-game losing streak in the series with a 30-27 win over the Tigers last season. They haven’t won in Memphis since 2013, however.

While Mordecai will be set to go on Saturday, the same might not be true for Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan as he nurses a right-shoulder injury.

Peter Parrish started for Memphis on Oct. 22 in a 24-7 loss to UCF and threw for 215 yards, with three interceptions, while being sacked six times.

Despite the uneven performance and a conservative offensive game plan, Tigers coach Ryan Silverfield said the extra time afforded by the team’s bye week should do wonders for Parrish.

“I do think you’re not feeling like you’re drinking out of a fire hose,” Silverfield said. “I think maybe less anxiety for Peter as he feels more comfortable with the offense. As he continues to study the game plan, if he’s the guy, then he’ll be ready to roll.”

For all of the hiccups, Parrish showed a comfort level in rushing the ball. He led the team with 60 yards on the ground against the Knights.

Calvin Austin III, who leads Memphis in catches (57), receiving yards (901) and TD receptions (eight), had six grabs for 78 yards and one score in last season’s loss to SMU.

The Tigers have committed 12 turnovers in losing four of their past five games. They will try to avoid falling under .500 for the first time since the 2013 season.

–Field Level Media

Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan throws the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.

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True freshman QBs take center stage in Memphis-UCF matchup

When the Memphis Tigers visit the UCF Knights on Friday night in Orlando, it could come down to a battle between true freshman quarterbacks.

Memphis (4-3, 1-2 American Athletic Conference) is powered by Seth Henigan, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder from the Dallas area who is the first true freshman to start a Tigers season opener.

UCF (3-3, 1-2) is led by Mikey Keene, a 5-11, 180-pounder who went 23-0 and won a pair of state titles over the past two years in Arizona.

Henigan, who has started all seven of Memphis’ games, is second in the AAC in passing yards per game (307.6) and in TD passes (16).

“One of the things that brought me to Memphis was their winning culture,” Henigan said.

Indeed, the past three Memphis starters at quarterback have been standouts: Paxton Lynch, an NFL first-round pick in 2016, Riley Ferguson and Brady White.

This year, the Tigers got off to a 3-0 start, including an upset win over Mississippi State. But then Memphis’ 22-game non-conference home winning streak was snapped with a 31-28 loss to UTSA. The Tigers then lost league games to Temple and Tulsa before ending their three-game skid last week with a 35-17 win over Navy.

Now comes UCF, a team that had beaten Memphis 13 consecutive times before last year, when the Tigers rallied to beat the Knights 50-49.

On Friday, of course, there will be two different starting quarterbacks. For UCF, that’s Keene, who in four games is ninth in the league in passing yards (142.0 per contest).

Keene, who has tossed four TD passes and the same number of interceptions, has been filling in for injured standout Dillon Gabriel.

In the games Gabriel started and completed, UCF went 2-0. Since Keene became the starter, the Knights are 1-2, including a blowout loss last week to then third-ranked Cincinnati.

UCF’s top playmakers are running back Johnny Richardson (team-high 317 rushing yards, 6.1 average) and receiver Ryan O’Keefe (team-high 35 catches and 375 yards). Running back Isaiah Bowser and wide receiver Brandon Johnson — a Tennessee Volunteers transfer — are tied for the team high with six touchdowns.

“We’ve got to have big plays,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. “We’re halfway through the season. We’ve got to get better.”

Memphis’ top playmaker is Calvin Austin III, who has 10 TDs this season — eight on receptions, one on a 69-yard reverse, and one on a punt return.

–Field Level Media

Memphis Tigers wide receiver Calvin Austin III celebrates a touchdown reception against the Arkansas State Red Wolves during their game at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro, Ark. On Sept. 11, 2021.

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Memphis looking to end three-game skid with bounce back win vs. Navy

Memphis won’t have to wait long for a chance to erase its three-game losing streak, as the Tigers return home Thursday night to face a similarly struggling conference opponent in Navy.

Memphis (3-3, 0-2 AAC) hasn’t won since upsetting Mississippi State 31-29 in Week 3 of the FBS season to improve to 3-0. The Tigers dropped their next three outings by a combined 12 points. Most recent was Saturday’s 35-29 loss at Tulsa after the Tigers made it close in the fourth quarter with two 75-yard touchdown drives.

“Unfortunately it’s been a similar narrative in all of our games, right, being down the last possession,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said. “And looking at our opponent ahead at Navy, a lot of their games have come down to one possession. … Like a lot of teams, the records necessarily don’t indicate what type of team you’re getting.”

The close losses tell Silverfield that his team simply needs to drill down on cleaning up the details. Against Tulsa, for instance, the Tigers gained 614 yards of total offense but lost the turnover battle 3-0 and missed three field goals and an extra point.

Senior all-conference wideout Calvin Austin III (48 receptions, 837 yards, eight TDs to lead Memphis) said Saturday the team needed to address its “sense of entitlement” over assuming it would beat teams it’s supposed to beat.

“I appreciate Calvin’s mature enough to recognize that’s a trend and we gotta make sure that it doesn’t continue on our team or find a way to rear its head in the locker room,” Silverfield said.

Behind quarterback Tai Lavatai, the Navy offense has woken up. After three weeks it was averaging 10.0 points per game, worst in FBS. But the Midshipmen scored 34 and 24 points the last two weeks against respectable conference opponents in UCF and then-No. 24 SMU.

Lavatai completed his first career touchdown pass on a flea-flicker against SMU, but Navy (1-4, 1-2) couldn’t hold on and lost 31-24.

Coach Ken Niumatalolo said his team is preparing for “a typical Memphis team.” The Tigers have won between eight and 10 games for seven consecutive seasons and taken their last two meetings with Navy.

“They’ve got good coaches on their staff, good players,” Niumatalolo said. “Tough loss versus Tulsa. We had a tough loss last week also versus SMU. But both of us, we’ve got to find a way to bounce back, and the team that does that is the team that’s gonna be successful.”

–Field Level Media

Ohio State defensive end Tyreke Smith pressures Tulsa quarterback Davis Brin.

Tulsa looks for second win as Memphis visits

During a team meeting that extended longer than usual, Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery acknowledged the difficult conversations that followed the Golden Hurricane’s 45-10 loss to the Houston Cougars on Oct. 1.

The Golden Hurricane (1-4, 0-1 American Athletic Conference) produced competitive efforts in nonconference losses to Power 5 programs Oklahoma State and Ohio State, performances that made the showing against the Cougars equally surprising and disappointing.

Montgomery demanded that his players refocus on the next opponent regardless of the most recent result, a philosophy that will be tested as Tulsa prepares to host Memphis on Saturday.

“Every week we’ve got a 24-hour rule, whether you win or lose; you’ve got to put it to bed and go to the next one,” Montgomery said. “So that’s what our mindset is right now, understanding that obviously we didn’t play the type of ball that we wanted to play. But that’s not indicative of who we are and how we’ve played all year. We’ve got to continue to get better and move forward.

“When you take a loss like that, it sits on you and weighs on you. It kind of hangs with you, and it’s harder to put those to bed than most are.”

Tulsa remains a threat behind an offense featuring redshirt junior quarterback Davis Brin, who is averaging 293.4 passing yards per game, and receivers Josh Johnson and Sam Crawford Jr., who both have enjoyed consecutive 100-yard receiving games this season. That level of production is enough to worry the Tigers, whose fast start to the season has cooled off a bit.

Memphis (3-2, 0-1) was unbeaten through three games, a run that included a rousing 31-29 victory over Mississippi State. However, turnovers have been a bugaboo of late, with Memphis guilty of six lost fumbles this season, factors in consecutive three-point setbacks to UTSA and Temple.

Execution is always paramount, especially during the grind of the conference schedule.

“The last three games have all been decided by three points or less,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said. “When you get that close to that fine line in college football, the margin for error continues to shrink every year. We’ve got to continue to clean up the things that we need to, and our guys understand what’s at stake.”

–Field Level Media

Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan throws the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.

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After blowout win, Temple opens AAC slate vs. Memphis

After splitting its first four games, Temple will open American Athletic Conference play against Memphis on Saturday in Philadelphia.

The Owls (2-2, 0-0 AAC) soundly defeated FCS foe Wagner 41-7 last Saturday.

Quarterback D’Wan Mathis started for the first time since the opener when he sustained an injury against Rutgers. Mathis threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Seahawks while displaying good mobility.

It’s a good sign heading into a much more difficult matchup against the Tigers.

“Most importantly, we got the win,” Mathis said.

The Temple running attack was also solid, producing 115 yards on 29 carries. There has been healthy competition at running back through the first four games, but Kyle Dobbins thrived last week, amassing 61 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries.

“I think (Dobbins) just really attacked the week,” Temple coach Rod Carey said. “He played Tuesday and Wednesday like it was a game, which is good. We’re harping on these guys — you get in games what you put into practice. And he certainly had a good week doing it.”

Memphis (3-1, 0-0) will look to bounce back after a surprising 31-28 loss to UTSA.

The Tigers built a 21-0 advantage but were outscore 17-0 in the fourth quarter.

Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan completed 15 of 25 passes for 329 yards and one touchdown. The true freshman will now prepare for a game after a loss for the first time.

“They just told me to keep my head up and look toward the future,” Henigan said, referring to the veteran players on the team. “Keep on going and don’t worry too much about what happened.”

On the defensive side for the Tigers, JJ Russell produced a career-high 18 tackles, including 11 solo. However, the defense appeared to tire in the second half, most notably in the fourth quarter.

“Losses are terrible,” Russell said. “The good thing is we have a lot to take away from and learn.”

–Field Level Media

Memphis Tigers receiver Calvin Austin III breaks into the endzone on a 25-yard catch against Mississippi State Bulldogs at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.

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Calvin Austin III, Memphis seek encore performance vs. UT-San Antonio

Memphis will see if receiver Calvin Austin III can provide an encore against the visiting and fellow undefeated UT-San Antonio in a nonconference game on Saturday.

Austin led the charge against the Mississippi State last week by scoring three second-half touchdowns in a span of 15:30 to help the Tigers (3-0) overcome a 17-7 halftime deficit to pull out a 31-29 win.

Memphis, a member of the American Athletic Conference, won despite allowing 419 yards and three touchdowns passing by quarterback Will Rogers. But the defense came up big when needed, stopping Rogers’ two-point conversion run with 1:32 left to secure the win.

Austin caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Seth Henigan with 6:20 left in the third quarter to cut the lead to 17-14 before his 25-yard scoring reception with 7:48 left in the fourth quarter gave the Tigers a 21-17 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The next time he touched the ball, a little more than two minutes later, he returned a punt 94 yards for a 28-17 lead.

Memphis is seeking its second 4-0 start in the past three seasons.

The Tigers will rely heavily on their three-headed monster of Henigan (841 yards passing, eight TDs, one interception), running back Brandon Thomas, who is averaging more than eight yards per carry, having rushed for 421 yards and three touchdowns on 50 attempts, and Austin, who has 21 catches for 391 yards and six scores.

“Memphis is probably the first team that we’ll play that has more team speed than we do,” Roadrunners coach Jeff Traylor told reporters. “They’ve won 17 games at home in a row and just beat an SEC team. We know no one is going to pick us being on the road, on ESPN and a nationally televised game with two 3-0 teams. It sounds like fun to me.”

The Roadrunners (3-0), who are seeking their first 4-0 start since 2012, have outscored the opposition 118-43 after knocking off visiting Middle Tennessee 27-13 in both teams’ Conference USA opener last Saturday. Frank Harris went 24-of-39 passing for 264 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for UTSA.

“We understand the type of game this is: You have two undefeated teams facing off,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield told reporters. “We’ve got to find a way to get better this week because they’re going to give us everything we want and more.”

Harris has thrown for 662 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions this season, while Sincere McCormick has rushed for 268 yards and two touchdowns. Zakhari Franklin has 22 receptions for 346 yards and three touchdowns.

The Roadrunners had five sacks and nine tackles during a dominating performance in which they limited Middle Tennessee State (1-2) to eight yards rushing, 11 first downs and 199 total yards of offense.

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan (14) is pressured by Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive end Randy Charlton (5) during the first half at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Calvin Austin III ignites Memphis rally, win over Miss. St.

Calvin Austin III scored three second-half touchdowns Saturday and Memphis withstood a 419-yard passing outburst from Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers to log a 31-29 non-conference win in Memphis.

The Tigers couldn’t secure the win until Rogers’ attempt to run in a game-tying 2-point conversion with 1:32 left in the game came up short. Memphis recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock to improve to 3-0.

Rogers, who completed 50 of 67 passes, brought the Bulldogs (2-1) within two points on a 36-yard touchdown pass to Makai Polk. It was Rogers’ third scoring strike of the day.

But it wasn’t enough to outdo Austin, the Tigers’ most dangerous weapon on offense. He almost single-handedly erased a 17-7 halftime deficit with his scores in a 15 1/2-minute span of the second half.

Austin caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Seth Henigan with 6:20 left in the third quarter, bringing Memphis within three points. Then he put the Tigers ahead for good with a 25-yard scoring grab at the 7:48 mark of the fourth quarter.

Just over two minutes later, Austin produced a 94-yard punt return for the Tigers’ second non-offensive touchdown of the game. They initiated scoring in the first quarter on a 49-yard fumble return by Sanchez Blake.

Austin finished with nine catches for 105 yards. He was outdone by Polk, who finished with a game-high 136 yards receiving on 11 grabs.

Trailing 7-0, Mississippi State controlled most of the remaining first half, rattling off 17 straight points. Second-quarter touchdowns on a 3-yard run by Dillon Johnson and Rogers’ 6-yard pass to Jaden Walley gave the Bulldogs a 10-point cushion.

Henigan was 16 of 28 for 159 yards for Memphis, which was outgained 468-246.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Houston Cougars running back Kyle Porter (22) carries the ball during the first half against the Memphis Tigers  at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis connects on FG as time expires to edge Houston

Riley Patterson kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired to lift host Memphis to a 30-27 victory over Houston on Saturday in an American Athletic Conference contest.

The Cougars scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to forge a tie with 28 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The Tigers answered as Brady White connected with Calvin Austin III for a 22-yard reception to set up Patterson, who kicked the ball just inside the upright to end the game.

White completed 22 of 35 passes for 246 yards to become the school’s all-time leader in passing yardage with 10,406. He entered the game needing just 56 yards to move past Danny Wimprine (2001-04) for the honor.

Austin joined Tahj Washington with a touchdown reception for the Tigers (7-3, 5-3 AAC). Austin had a team-high seven catches for 74 yards, with the latter total helping him become the fourth Memphis wideout to reach the 1,000-yard plateau for a season.

The victory was the Tigers’ 15th straight at home, a stretch that dates back to the 2018 season.

Clayton Tune threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another in the fourth quarter for the Cougars (3-4, 3-3), who were playing their first game since posting a 56-21 win over South Florida on Nov. 14.

Tune found Marquez Stevenson in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown before the quarterback scampered 19 yards for a score nearly five minutes later. The scoring surge trimmed Memphis’ lead to 27-20, and Tune found an open Bryson Smith alone in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left.

White stepped up in the pocket and connected with Washington in the back of the end zone to give Memphis a 10-6 lead with 5:21 remaining in the second quarter. Washington’s touchdown reception was his sixth of the season.

Houston attempted to respond just before halftime, however Tune was unable to corral a high snap. Tigers Defensive end Jaylon Allen alertly scooped up the ball and lumbered 85 yards for a touchdown.

Memphis kept the pressure on to begin the third quarter, as White threaded the needle to Austin over the middle for a 15-yard touchdown to cap a nine-play, 75-yard drive. Austin’s touchdown catch was his 10th of the season, making him the first Tigers wideout to record double-digit scoring receptions since Anthony Miller had 18 in 2017.

–Field Level Media

Nov 28, 2020; Annapolis, Maryland, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Brady White (3) warms up before the game against the Navy Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis QB White seeks history against Houston

Senior quarterback Brady White — likely in his last collegiate regular-season start — will lead the host Memphis Tigers against the Houston Cougars in an American Athletic Conference game on Saturday afternoon.

Memphis (6-3, 4-3 AAC) has beaten Houston in each of the past four years. The Tigers are also 5-0 at home this season, and they haven’t lost a home game since October 2018.

Houston (3-3, 3-2) hasn’t played in a month — since defeating the South Florida Bulls 56-21 on Nov. 14. Over the past few weeks, games against Tulsa and SMU were canceled.

White is just 56 yards away from topping Danny Wimprine to become Memphis’ career leader in passing yards. Wimprine threw for 10,215 yards from 2001-04. White already owns the school records for passing touchdowns (85) and wins as a starting quarterback (26).

His top receiver is junior Calvin Austin III, who has logged at least 100 yards in six of his past seven games. Austin ranks second in the AAC in receiving yards (951) as he closes in on his first 1,000-yard season.

However, Memphis lost its most recent game, falling 35-21 at Tulane.

“The only response we’re going to have is to pick ourselves up and keep swinging,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said when asked about the upcoming Houston game. “What we do from here is how we will be defined.”

Houston, which went 4-8 last season, hasn’t had the chance to get on track this year due to COVID-19 and contact tracing.

The last time the Cougars took the field, they scored a season-high 56 points in a rout of South Florida. Junior quarterback Clayton Tune completed 14 of 25 passes for 163 yards and a season-high three TDs in that game. He also rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

“That’s going to change things,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said of Tune’s running ability. “You can’t just play man coverage and ignore the quarterback. You have to keep your eyes on him, and that will open things up in the running and passing games.”

For the season, Tune is completing 60.6 percent of his passes and has 11 TD throws and six interceptions. He is also second on the team with 233 rushing yards.

Tune’s best playmakers are a pair of seniors: running back Kyle Porter and wide receiver Keith Corbin. Porter has a team-high 415 scrimmage yards and is averaging 4.6 yards per touch. Corbin has a team-high 24 receptions for 333 yards and one score.

The Houston defense is led by 6-foot-6, 270-pound senior defensive end Payton Turner, who leads the team with 9.5 tackles for losses.

–Field Level Media