Coming off a huge victory over SMU, the Memphis Tigers (5-4. 2-3 AAC) face the opportunity to complete a conquest that’s seemed to be a ritual: reaching a bowl game. However, standing in their way happens to be a formidable Eastern Carolina (5-4, 3-2 AAC) squad who’s just as determined to reach a bowl game as well. Head Coach Ryan Silverfield was very complimentary of ECU and its prolific quarterback ahead of the matchup.
“ECU represents a pretty tough opponent for us coming up,” Silverfield said. “Holton Ahlers has been a quarterback that has improved every year that he’s been there, and he’s their second leading passer of all-time. So we have a lot to worry about.”
Last week, the Tigers held a potent SMU offense to its lowest scoring output and yardage total of the season in their 28-25 victory. Although ECU doesn’t represent the same offensive threat to Memphis as the Mustangs, Ahlers’s ability to play mistake-free football will certainly keep the Pirates in the game. Combine that with a running attack led by the league’s leading rusher, Keaton Mitchell, ECU possesses the formula to keep up with a Tigers defense that’s been up and down all season.
For Memphis, the key to victory lies in their ability to find balance in their offense. Despite emerging victorious a week ago against SMU, their offense produced a paltry 31 rushing yards on the ground. While Memphis worked without its lead rusher, Brandon Thomas, and Kylan Watkins missing in action due to a season-ending foot injury, Silverfield wasn’t one to hide his dissatisfaction with the lack of a running game.
“We have to do better than that, and I think that we will this week,” he said. “We have dealt with a few injuries at the position, but I feel that we possess the depth and the guys to have a good running game to do really well this week.”
Despite true freshman quarterback Seth Henigan nursing a shoulder injury, he still managed to get off 53 passes (31 completions) in the victory. With an uptick in the run game, Silverfield realizes that this won’t be an every week occurrence. However, he understands that Henigan has the ability to carry the load, and that gives him an extra boost of confidence heading into a critical game with ECU.
“For someone who is a true freshman, he’s done a lot well and sometimes we have to tell ourselves that he’s still a true freshman.”
The Memphis offense features weapons in wide receiver Calvin Austin III and tight end Sean Dykes that could give the ECU defense nightmares. Despite handling Temple 52-3 in their last game, a team Memphis lost to, the Pirates face a tough task in slowing down the power and speed Dykes and Austin possess. The duo totaled 152 receiving yards last week, and they'll likely be highly targeted again this week against ECU.
With an emerging defense and an offense prone for explosive performances, the Tigers have the ability to break this game wide open against the Pirates. However, if the Tigers don’t take care of business early, then it could simply be a long day for the home team.