This rendition of the Memphis Tigers football had a lot of questions coming into season. With Brady White now gone, many fans wondered who would take the reins for the Tigers this season.
Many expected Arizona transfer Grant Gunnell to be the opening day starter, but were taken by surprise to see true freshman Seth Henigan take the field as the starting quarterback, the first time in program history a true freshman has started the season opener.
When Henigan took the field, some took it as an opportunity for both QBs to get playing time in the opening game of the season. That idea went out the window when Gunnell was seen walking around the sideline in shorts, not geared up for gameday.
What people did not know until after the game is that Gunnell will be out for at least two weeks due to an undisclosed injury. “I don’t foresee [Gunnell] being ready in the next couple of weeks,” head coach Ryan Silverfield said after the game when asked about the QB’s status going forward.
With Gunnell now out, the Denton,Texas native had full control of the offense for the game. Although Henigan looked shaky on the Tigers’ first few offensive drives, he was helped out by a breakout performance by redshirt freshman Brandon Thomas.
“I told you guys Brandon Thomas was a full load,” Silverfield said about the North Little Rock native after the game.
With 147 rushing yards on 16 carries, Thomas showed why his coaches were so high on him. Thomas was one of four running backs who touched the ball for the Tigers along with Rodrigues Clark, Asa Martin and Marquavius Weaver. The quartet combined for 315 yards on the ground and three touchdowns for the Tigers, keeping the pressure off Henigan.
Henigan showed more and more poise after each snap, ending with a statline of 19 of 32 completions for 265 yards passing. He capped off his performance with an 11 yard touchdown pass to Calvin Austin III with about two minutes into the fourth quarter.
The Nicholls defense keyed in on Austin and tight end Sean Dykes to stop them from breaking loose on the outside, limiting them to a combined seven catches for 52 yards and one touchdown.
That opened the door for two other wide receivers: redshirt sophomore Javon Ivory and redshirt senior Gabriel Rogers. The duo combined for eight receptions for 165 yards. The offense stalled out in the red zone five times, forcing them to settle for field goals from new kicker Joe Doyle.
The defense looked shaky at the beginning of both halves, giving up long drives of 75 and 72 yards both ending up in the endzone for the Colonels, but remained steady for the rest of the game, holding to 152 yards in all other drives.
“We have to start faster”, Silverfield said about the defense.
Leading the way in tackles for the Tiger defense were fifth year senior JJ Russell and redshirt junior Quindell Johnson with seven tackles. With a full game and an upcoming week of first team reps under his belt, Henigan will look to build on his debut as the Tigers go to Jonesboro to take on Arkansas State next Saturday.