What we learned in Memphis football freshman QB Seth Henigan's history-making season-opening debut
Tailgating was back at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The Tiger Walk returned with cheering fans and high-fives for players.
Even Memphis football players were more fired up as several came out early to pump the crowd just before the team took the field behind coach Ryan Silverfield. It was a welcome sight for Saturday’s season opener with no attendance limits for fans.
It set the stage for history with Seth Henigan becoming the Tigers’ first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener. Henigan was sharp, poised and efficient as the Tigers won 42-17 over Nicholls State on Saturday.
Here’s what we learned as the Tigers won their 16th consecutive home game:
Seth Henigan steps up in first game
The suspense over who would start at quarterback ended with Grant Gunnell in a jersey and shorts during warmups. Gunnell was declared full-go Monday by Silverfield and both he and Henigan were listed as the starter on the depth chart.
Henigan had little trouble in his first college game. He completed his first three passes and drew a 15-yard targeting penalty on his first run after sliding. He showed off a great deep ball with throws to Javon Ivory and Gabe Rogers and great decision making by not forcing many throws.
His first touchdown pass came on a 11-yard catch-and-run by Calvin Austin III. Henigan finished with 265 yards (19-for-32 passing) in a solid debut and Memphis scored on all nine drives he led without punting once.
Thomas, Rubin add to youth brigade
Henigan wasn’t the only true freshman to see significant time. Greg Rubin saw significant reps at cornerback and the White Station alum had a pass breakup in the second quarter. It was Rubin’s first game since his junior season in 2019.
Brandon Thomas started at running back and the redshirt freshman showed why coaches have been high on him since the spring. He ran with power and showed off his speed on a 37-yard run in the second half.
The Arkansas native had 147 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. As much as Henigan made his case to remain the Tigers’ starting quarterback, Thomas did the same in his first significant action.
RB by committee answers call
The Tigers weren’t expected to rely on one running back. Thomas dominated the action, but Memphis used four running backs who all showed some flair.
Rodrigues Clark and Marquavius Weaver scored in the first half, with Clark knocking over a defender on his way to a 13-yard score.
Asa Martin had 65 yards on 13 carries, second-most behind Thomas. Credit goes to the Tigers’ revamped offensive line doing its job creating lanes, but the Tigers’ ground game looked much improved in racking up 322 yards rushing, more than any game last season.
Joe Doyle kicks off strong start
Joe Doyle’s first game as a Tiger didn’t disappoint as the senior transfer from Tennessee was 5-for-5 on field goals, one shy of Riley Patterson’s program record for field goals in a game.
Doyle’s longest make was 38 yards, and he took advantage of Memphis struggling to finish inside the red zone.
Doyle didn't attempt a punt, given the Tigers' success. He is serving as the team’s kicker and punter in a rare dual role.
True tests come next
Unlike Tulsa losing to UC Davis, Memphis did what it was supposed to at home against an FCS opponent: Win and not look too shaky. But now comes two consecutive games that will show who the Tigers really are.
Next week at Arkansas State won’t be easy as the Red Wolves remember how the Tigers beat them last year. Can Henigan’s poise transfer on the road and can the Tigers’ veteran defense continue to show its experience? How ready will Memphis be to host Mississippi State in two weeks, which rallied from 20 down Saturday against Louisiana Tech?
Time will tell. But Memphis passed its first test without much worry, and the announced attendance of 30,263 fans went home happy as things looked normal this college football season.
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You can reach Evan Barnes on Twitter (@Evan_B) or by email at email@example.com