Memphis football faces dual problems of quarterback injuries, SMU's high-powered offense

Evan Barnes
Memphis Commercial Appeal
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Memphis already has enough problems for its matchup  with No. 24 SMU. But things could get worse after coach Ryan Silverfield's latest update on Seth Henigan.

The freshman quarterback remains a game-time decision Saturday (11 a.m., ESPNU) and hasn't been able to go through a full, healthy practice due to his right shoulder injury. It's one more worry in a game where the Tigers face one of the nation's best offenses.

The benefit from an open week is Memphis (4-4, 1-3 AAC) had an extra week to prep sophomore Peter Parrish for a potential second start. Despite a short week leading into UCF, offensive coordinator Kevin Johns praised Parrish handling the pressure of his first start.

"He did a good job managing the situation. Got to do a better job really trusting his eyes and getting through his progressions, but all in all, I thought he played pretty well," Johns said.

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The Tigers' offense, however, was limited in what it could do. Thirty of Parrish's 48 pass attempts were either screen passes at or behind the line of scrimmage or short passes that went up to five yards. He was also 1-for-8 on passes that went at least 15 yards.

The only positive was Parrish showing off his speed and elusiveness on third downs. Johns said that if Parrish starts, he'll still be mostly featured in the run game as he'll look to split more carries with the running backs.

"I think moving forward, that's still going to be his strength. That's who he is. He's one of those guys when you call a pass and it might turn into a run. If the pocket breaks down, he can take off and go get a first down," Johns said.

Oct 22, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Peter Parrish (1) throws a pass during the second quarter against the UCF Knights at Bounce House. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis might resemble more of an option team Saturday but the Tigers also have to find ways to use Parrish's arm, too. One option in the short game is tight end Sean Dykes, who was targeted just four times against UCF and had one reception.

However, the issues on offense could pale to what's coming for the defense.

The SMU problem

Memphis hasn't faced a passing attack like SMU since its win over Mississippi State. SMU (7-1, 3-1) has scored over 35 points in all but one game this season.

Junior quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who transferred from Oklahoma, is second nationally with 32 touchdowns and sixth in passing yards per game (328.1). Three of the Mustangs' receivers rank in the AAC's top 10 in receiving yards. 

SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai looks to pass against Navy during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

SMU was a potent offense when it plated at Memphis two years ago. This year's team is more explosive, averaging 6.73 yards per play compared to 6.14 in 2019.

"They've got speed everywhere. They've got two backs that can be all-conference type players," Silverfield said. "I know they're going to look to take shots on us."

Memphis gave up 419 passing yards to Mississippi State running a similar offense and SMU is averaging more yards per attempt than the Bulldogs (8.5 to 6.7).

For a Tigers' defense that's struggled, it's another troubling match-up. SMU will be motivated after last week's  44-37 loss to Houston. No matter who starts at quarterback, it might not matter if Memphis can't stop the Mustangs from scoring.

It's part of a problem that makes Saturday's game even more difficult than just worrying about Henigan's status. If the Tigers can't figure either one out, they'll be under .500 for the first time since 2013 and growing concerns .

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You can reach Evan Barnes on Twitter (@Evan_B) or by email at [email protected]

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