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Ryan Silverfield’s Critical Challenge: Overcoming Road Woes at a Pivotal Juncture

Patrick Lantrip|Credit: AP.

Last week, in our preview of the Memphis Tigers game against Tulane on Friday night, we wrote that the game marked a critical juncture in the season. A win would have put the Tigers out in front in the AAC, and with a home game atmosphere, we believed they’d be prepared for a far better start to the game and a lot more control as a result.

In that preview, we wrote, ‘It’s important for the Tigers to control the tempo here and settle into the game, especially early on.’ Memphis did not do that and once again stumbled through 90% of the first half before forcing their way back into the game.

Seth Henigan threw a pick in the first quarter, which Tulane then converted into a touchdown on the following drive, and a field goal in the second quarter put the Green Wave up 10 to nothing in Memphis’ backyard.

It was former Toledo transfer Demeer Blankumsee who finally ignited the offense with a huge run after a catch over the middle, and he finished off that same drive with a 17-yard touchdown catch to bring Memphis back into the game.

When Joseph Scates caught the second touchdown on the following drive, it felt like the momentum was really shifting back toward the Tigers. They went up 14-10, and the Green Wave had stalled on offense throughout the second quarter.

Typically, the Tigers have been a better second-half team than in the first, as evidenced against Boise State earlier this season. They came out and scored early in the third to pull away at 21-10, and that was where their production finished.

The Green Wave battled back with two scoring drives to retake the lead, and at that point, Memphis seemed to have no fight left in them. An absurd interception all but put the game away when Henigan tried to find Roc Taylor on the sideline. It hit the Tigers receiver square in the hands but bounced off and floated in the air before being picked off by a Tulane defender.

While unfortunate, Memphis didn’t do enough to deserve to win the game, and it comes back to the conversation of Ryan Silverfield-led teams falling short when it matters the most in the biggest games he coaches. They weren’t in it for most of the first half and rescued themselves with two late scores before time expired, and then came out and scored again early in the third, only to disappear again for the remainder of the game.

They allowed 21 unanswered points in the second half, and head coach Ryan Silverfield pointed towards poor execution on third down on both the offensive and defensive side of the football.

Memphis is converting 38.5% of their third downs offensively this season, which isn’t good enough to rank them in the top 60 across all college football.

Then, defensively, they failed to get off the field too many times and allowed Tulane to control the possession of the game. The Green Wave ran the ball 39 times and controlled the tempo for the majority with almost 37 minutes of possession on the night.

Silverfield was very aware of how important this game was for his career, and he now faces a critical challenge to win out the rest of the season and try to force his way into the AAC Championship game, likely for a rematch against Tulane. The Tigers aren’t out of it, currently tied with four wins with SMU, but another loss would all but seal it.

Memphis now has four winnable games on the schedule before they will play SMU, all in the division and all against opponents the program wants to be way ahead of at this point in their journey. UAB is next with a Saturday noon kickoff, followed by North Texas, USF at home, and the Charlotte 49ers on the road.

USF will be the sticking point out of the four, and the Tigers absolutely can’t stumble against any of these four teams if their hopes of making that title game want to remain alive.

That said, the Tigers have struggled on the road, and they will now play back-to-back road games against conference opponents with the hopes for the season hanging by a thread. The coaching staff absolutely have to get the best out of this team in those next two games.

Silverfield must prove he can coach this team outside of their home state. That’s one of the loudest criticisms about him and his program right now, and it’s completely justified. In the last two seasons combined, Memphis has gone 2-8 on the road. They’re yet to lose a road game this season, but they’ve also not beaten a good team on the road since Mike Norvell left.

Silverfield is on the Hot Seat

For Silverfield, the rest of this season will shape his future. He needed to beat Tulane to take Memphis into new territory and avoid another potentially mediocre season in charge. The expectation is that Memphis would take a step forward this season, and now, at 4-2, it feels as though they’re not executing as they should.

Remember that Silverfield was an offensive line coach and run game coordinator under Mike Norvell. So far this season, they’ve enjoyed plenty of success with the run game and former Old Dominion transfer Blake Watson. This week, they were held to 45 rushing yards, and Watson was supposedly hurt and sidelined for most of the game.

Tulane’s defense is a good one, but Memphis went entirely away from their run game and tried to air it out for the entirety of the game.

While we understand that Mike Norvell is a tough act to follow, and there’s a reason that he is now leading Florida State into the top four in the country and back to being a powerhouse in the ACC, that can’t be an excuse.

Norvell took the Tigers to a point where winning ten games in a season felt possible. He did it twice, and those two seasons mark two of the four 10-win seasons the Tigers have had in their program history.

The hire that followed Norvell had to be able to uphold that standard to keep the program in contention in the AAC and for a potential NY6 Bowl appearance. Without it, recruiting will take a hit, and the program will quickly slump back to being a middle-of-the-road outfit again.

So far, under Silverfield, that’s precisely what happened. They went 6-6 in 2021 and 7-6 in 2022, which needed to be the year they won nine or ten games.

You can’t help but feel like a loss before the SMU game could now be fatal for Silverfield. UAB isn’t going to be a cakewalk on the road by any means, and USF will give them trouble, too.

Of course, this isn’t all on Silverfield and his staff; there are spots where Seth Henigan could be better, but he’s also one of the better quarterbacks you’ll see in the position Memphis is in as a program right now.

The plan from here is simple. Get the program on track and win the next four-to-meet SMU in a game that could decide which of the two makes it into the running for the AAC title game. Failing to do that will be a problem, and we’ll have to see if Silverfield’s job survives the backlash.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. David Sowell

    October 20, 2023 at 7:26 pm

    Silverfield has to go.

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