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5 things to know about Wake Forest’s opponent: Memphis

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The Birmingham Bowl meeting between Wake Forest and Memphis will mark the first time these schools have played each other in football in 51 years.

There’s a lot that’s happened since a four-year series from 1964-67 saw each team win two games.

One noticeable change: back then, the school was Memphis State.

Here are five early things to know about Memphis — as there are sure to be updates on the Tigers in the next two and a half weeks:

1. Darrell Henderson is the key

The Tigers have one of the best running backs in the country in Henderson. He’s run for 1,909 yards (second-most in the country) and 22 touchdowns (tied for the most in the country) and averages a national-best 179.1 all-purpose yards per game.

The 5-9, 200-pounder is one of the most-electrifying players in college football, averaging 8.92 yards per carry. Of his 25 total touchdowns this season, 14 of them came on plays covering at least 40 yards.

There could be a decision to make for Henderson, though. He’s eligible for the NFL Draft in a year that doesn’t feature a strong crop of running backs, and as one of the country’s statistical leaders in rushing categories, playing another game wouldn’t do much for his draft stock. It’ll be worth monitoring whether he announces for the NFL Draft and if he’ll skip the Birmingham Bowl in the coming weeks.

Tulane Wake Forest Football (copy)

Wake Forest redshirt junior linebacker Justin Strnad (23) watches Jonathan Banks make a throw. It was Strnad’s first start of his career.

2. Still a well-oiled machine

Henderson isn’t even the only 1,000-yard rusher on the Tigers this year, though.

Patrick Taylor Jr. has 1,012 yards and 15 touchdowns on 178 carries, good enough for second on the team and tied for 46th in the country for yards and tied for eighth in the country for touchdowns.

Memphis’ offense racks up points and yards better than nearly every team in the country — seventh in scoring at 43.6 points per game and fourth in yards at 534.3 per game.

Quarterback Brady White is one of 22 quarterbacks in the country who’s thrown for more than 3,000 yards (3,125), and the redshirt junior has 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Tulane Wake Forest Football (copy)

Wake Forest redshirt junior linebacker Justin Strnad (23) watches Jonathan Banks make a throw. It was Strnad’s first start of his career.

3. One common opponent

The only common opponent between Wake Forest and Memphis is Tulane, an American Athletic Conference member that the Deacons beat 23-17 in overtime in the season-opening game.

About a month after that, the Green Wave dealt the Tigers a 40-24 loss — in which Henderson only had a season-low nine offensive touches, but 98 yards and two touchdowns.

4. Not the strongest of wins

Memphis won eight games this year, but only one of those came against a bowl-eligible team. That win was against Houston (8-4) in the regular-season finale, a 52-31 thrashing in which the Tigers scored the game’s final three touchdowns in a span of 6:08 in the fourth quarter.

Otherwise, Memphis’ seven wins came against teams with a combined record of 22-61 — and the best winning percentage of those teams was FCS-level Mercer, which finished 5-6.

5. Observer (from afar)

Coach Dave Clawson of Wake Forest was complimentary of Memphis, and Coach Mike Norvell returned the favor in a video posted to the team’s official site.

“For our guys to go and play a Power-5 opponent, and a Wake Forest team that’s playing at a really high level at the end of the season, we know it’s going to be a heck of a matchup,” Norvell said in the video. “I’ve got the utmost respect for Coach Clawson and the job that he does.

“I’ve actually been able to watch a couple of games throughout the year … and then I caught one of their Thursday night games when they went on the road to upset N.C. State, it was definitely an impressive victory.”

This article originally ran on journalnow.com.


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