With their season at an end, the University of Memphis Tigers hosted the Highland Hundred banquet this past Sunday (Dec. 8). Outgoing seniors and outstanding players were honored at the event.
Senior running back Brandon Hayes was awarded the DeAngelo Williams MVP award. Hayes tallied 860 yards rushing and 119 yards receiving with seven touchdowns, which also helped him win the Isaac Bruce Offensive Player of the Year award for the second straight season.
Anthony Brown won the John Bramlett Defensive Player of the Year for recording 52 tackles (four for a loss) and 1.5 sacks. Brown is a junior college transfer and has totaled 86 tackles in his two seasons at Memphis.
The Joey Allison Special Teams Player of the Year award went to punter Tom Hornsey for the second year in a row. Hornsey, a Ray Guy Award finalist, was eighth in the nation this year with a 45.2 yard average on his punts.
Seniors Jacob Karam and Jesse Milleson won the True Tiger Award for personifying what the Memphis program tries to exemplify as a program.
And lastly, true freshmen Ernest Suttles (defensive end) and Anthony Miller (wide receiver) received the Glenn Jones defensive and offensive scout team player of the year awards.
Looking back and going forward
After losing their final game this past Saturday (Dec. 7) 45-10 at UConn, the Tigers finished the season with a 3-9 record. It was the second disappointing loss in a row after Memphis dropped their previous match-up with Temple.
UConn and Temple won a total of three games outside of their victories against the Tigers. Memphis had a good chance to win both of these games, but instead lost and lost by a significant margin.
Throughout the year, the Tigers had shown progress and had played well against quality opponent. After getting demolished the last two weeks by less-than-stellar teams, many questions have started to surface.
Memphis' defense was the strong point of the Tigers' squad early on, but down the stretch the defense seemed to implode. A prime example of that was the fact they got torched the final two weeks by freshmen quarterbacks.
Was the Tigers' strong defensive start a realistic possibility going forward, or just a flash in the pan?
And speaking of freshmen quarterbacks: Is quarterback Paxton Lynch truly the answer for the future?
A QB controversy could have easily developed this year with coach Justin Fuente starting Lynch over senior Jacob Karam, but Fuente stuck to his guns and refused to pull Lynch even through his struggles.
After watching the Tigers get ripped apart the past two weekends by freshmen QBs, many in the True Blue Nation have begun to question why Lynch never had a breakout game. Or was Fuente too hard-headed? Could Karam have willed the 3-9 Tigers to a few more wins?
Remember, Memphis was 4-8 the previous year with Karam under center, albeit against C-USA competition.
Fuente seems to have a firm grasp of the game and Memphis did show progress this season, even though the record didn't reflect it. The Tigers' football program definitely has a steep hill to climb and many believe Fuente is the one that could lead Memphis up that incline.
Time will tell. At this point, the True Blue Nation doesn't appear to be giving up on Fuente just yet. Still, it has been a disappointing year and, unfortunately, no one was too surprised.