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Birmingham Bowl Players to Watch: Memphis Tigers

The notable players on Wake’s bowl opponent.

NCAA Football: Navy at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Deacons were able to play through all their injury woes and their lackluster defensive performances early on in the year to earn their third-straight bowl appearance. Having a true freshman at quarterback who played nine out of the twelve games in the regular season goes to show how equipped the team’s coaching staff was to be a successful team even with losing their long-time playmaker, John Wolford.

On Wake’s last regular season matchup, they faced up against the Duke Blue Devils in Durham. No one expected that much of a strong effort on both sides of the field, but the Deacons were able to do whatever they wanted to draw up. Behind the historical performance of running back Cade Carney, who racked up a career-high 223 yards and two touchdowns, the team was able to win in blowout fashion, winning 59-7. This cemented them in yet another bowl appearance for the program.

In that game, I told you to keep an eye on back wide receiver TJ Rahming and defensive back Marquise Waters.

Here’s how those two performed.

Rahming: 1 catch, 15 yards

Waters: 6 tot

The Blue Devils’ offense played nowhere near up to their standards against Wake. The Deacons defense smothered any sense of deep-range passes and were able to do a fantastic job against future NFL quarterback Daniel Jones. Jones finished the game with just 145 yards in the air on 47 percent completion percentage. As a result, there weren’t much opportunities for Rahming to shine.

As for Waters, he did manage to have a successful game. Able to locate the football and carry out the tackle came at ease for him.

The Deacons’ next game Birmingham, Alabama, where they will be playing in the Birmingham Bowl. In this matchup, they’re up against the Memphis Tigers.

The Tigers had yet another successful season in the American Conference, boasting an 8-5 record. Head coach Mike Norvell has done an excellent job in making this team one of the best in the conference for the past couple of seasons now. They have had key statement wins against Houston, where they blew them out 52-21, and against UCONN, where they won 55-14.

That said, here are the notable players on Memphis who you should keep an eye on in their bowl game vs Wake Forest.

Tony Pollard

Pollard has been the spark unit for the Tigers throughout his three years with the team. He has provided the chunk plays that can turn the tide of a game. A speed demon with the ball, his versatility is essential in the way his team generates yardage.

Pollard began his career as a redshirt wide receiver for Memphis. Entering his sophomore season, we saw a big change in both his game and his team’s offensive structure. Head coach Mike Norvell was able to distinguish that he is not just a catch receiver but can do so many things to help his team win if called upon.

To put it simply, Pollard a perennial playmaker. He has continued to become an established receiver as he’s hit 1,286 yards and caught nine touchdowns in just three seasons on the team. Mind you, this was during the time when Memphis had Anthony Miller, who became a first-round selection in the NFL Draft at the receiver position. Consequently, Pollard has never truly been a number one option because of the talent at his position.

With his teammates taking up his catching opportunities, Pollard was able to gain playing time in other areas.

One of those is at running back. He isn’t the team’s feature back but still manages to be an excellent contribution to that realm of offense. This season, he averaged a luxurious 7.2 yards per attempt. Although not used as much as say Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr., Pollard is capable of gaining the necessary yeards when called upon.

The final area that Pollard has excelled in is on special teams. Returning kicks over the past three seasons have led to tremendous success for both him and the Tigers. He’s averaging a career 30.5 return per attempt, while having an outlandish state line of 40 yards per return the season prior. This play not only led to great field position for his team, but also result in points. So far, he has amassed six career kickoff returns over tenure. A homerun play-caliber man, special teams adjustments will be one of the first time the Deacons needed to adjust in this category this season.

I expect Pollard to be not only just all over the field against the Deacons, but also land a high pick in next year’s NFL Draft. He has proven to do great in three different aspects of football and is a real challenge to bring down.

I can see Tony Pollard having a true impactful game in Birmingham.

Bryce Huff

Huff has developed his game quite nicely over the past three seasons. He has grown from a mediocre contributor to one of the most underrated defenders in the American. Possessing quick mobility and understanding of the game Huff has become a key piece on the Tigers’ sacking campaign this year.

Size is a key element in Huff’s game. He has a strong stature at 6’3”, 245 pounds. This is an ideal height and size for most modern NFL edge rushers, so it’s’ pretty astonishing to see him in this kind of state in just his third season in college. Having this clear size advantage in the NCAA gives him a multitude of different ways he can create separation on his blocker to get to the quarterback.

And get to the quarterback he can. In just one season he went from having two total sacks through twelve games to a whopping nine and a half through twelve this year. This has been an onslaught of a performance this year and has been a surprise staple of the Tigers front seven. He ranked third in the American in sacks behind Tulane’s Patrick Washington and ECU’s Nate Harvey.

Being able to rush the quarterback has transformed the Tigers into sculpting a new identity. Throughout the last few seasons, they weren’t thought of as a legitimate pass rushing defense, as they’ve had an average of 24 sacks over that span, leading to a fifth and eighth place in the conference per team sacks respectively. But, the additional of the overwhelming play by Huff has put a new symbol on the team’s agenda. The Tigers finished off the year with a total of 35 sacks, which was tied for first in the conference. They are now an elite unit getting to the quarterback, in large part to their play of a once saw after talent.

Another note to mention is Huff’s ability to stop plays before they begin to orchestrate. He has to lead the team in tackles for a loss this year with 18.5. Having this north-south running style may lead to some adjustments by head coach Dave Clawson. We may see double teams or at least a chip-off man come is way in this one.

Both Tony Pollard and Bryce Huff possess the ability to have an impactful bowl game on all three sides of the ball, and it’s up to the Deacon’s schematics to stop it.