Memphis football has been long adored by fans and analysts alike for its explosive offense and strong special teams play.
But since the hiring of Ryan Silverfield in 2019, the program has seen a shift in its identity and the Tigers are now more of a defensive-minded group. This is evidently predictable in a sense, as Silverfield doesn’t have a background in play-calling. He doesn’t have a background in developing offensive schemes.
He’s an offensive line coach, which means that he has had to rely on his coordinators and personnel to make both the offensive and defensive units work.
And while working under this approach, the defense has consistently shined while the offense has consistently faltered.
Matt Barnes is already the best hire Silverfield has made at Memphis after just one year as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.
Before making the move down to the Bluff City, Barnes spent three years at Ohio State. He served as special team’s coordinator for two years before being promoted to the defensive backs coach in 2021. It was also in 2021 when he was abruptly jolted into calling the Buckeyes’ defense for the final 11 games of the season.
Ohio State allowed just 20.3 points per game during that stretch after giving up 31 and 35 points respectively in their first two games.
Barnes already possesses a tremendous reputation due this success at Ohio State and what he did during his first year at Memphis. So, fans should expect him to field another good defense in 2023.
Memphis’ incoming recruiting class further supports the supposed change in culture the Tigers have seen under Silverfield.
Its top 4 high school recruits for 2023 are all defensive players. Memphis also brought in seven defensive transfers from Power 5 conferences.
The program will welcome its 8th highest-rated recruit of all time, Marjayvious Moss. Moss is 4-star cornerback out from Shreveport, Louisiana. He chose Memphis despite being offered by five Power 5 programs.
Moss, along with other recruits, show that Memphis has done a solid job at bringing in defensive talent and establishing an identity on that side of the ball.
If I’m being completely honest, it probably isn’t the best idea to take stock into what happens in a team’s spring game. However, it is quite remarkable that Memphis’ annual “Friday Night Stripes” game ended with an astonishing score of 10-7.
If you look at other schools throughout the country, Alabama’s spring game ended 30-21 despite bad quarterback play. LSU’s ended 32-22. Other schools have experienced similar outcomes.
Whether you chalk it up to bad offense or elite defense, a 10-7 spring game should give you an idea of the team’s mindset going into 2023.
— Memphis Football (@MemphisFB) April 22, 2023
What Does this Culture Shift Mean?
The Silverfield era has been less than flattering through three seasons.
His teams have lacked in identity, and have subsequently had mediocre results. But, this emphasis he seems to be putting on defense could be a sign of growth.
It’s a make-or-break year for both Memphis and Silverfield. Another disappointing campaign would put the program in its worst spot since 2013. A bounce-back year, on the other hand, could put the Tigers right back on track.
And if it’s the defense that leads Memphis football back to prominence, so be it.
Because I doubt that anyone will be opposed to this identity shift if that’s the case.