At first glance, the 2018 Birmingham Bowl looks on paper to be a matchup of two high powered offenses. For Wake Forest, on four different occasions this season, the Demon Deacons have scored over 50 points. In contrast, the Memphis Tigers have scored over 40 points on eight different occasions this season.
However, the end of the season has thrown different twists for each team. Ironically both programs have had to adjust to the attrition from their respective programs. Whether it be injuries or changes in coordinators, both teams will have to adjust for the bowl game. With one final game left, two hindered programs are competing to cross the finish line.
2018 Birmingham Bowl Primer
What: 2018 Birmingham Bowl.
When: Saturday, December 22nd at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN.
Where: Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.
In a season where the Memphis Tigers were close to ending the UCF Knight’s winning streak, they’ll have to settle with being the American West champions. The Tigers will look a bit different this bowl game without star running back Darrell Henderson. As the Doak Finalist sets to prepare for the NFL Draft, the Patrick Taylor Jr. era will get underway in Birmingham.
Although he is listed as a backup, Taylor has rushed for over 1000 yards this season and has 28 rushing touchdowns the past two seasons combined. Another notable change on the offensive end will be the loss of Kenny Dillingham, the offensive coordinator. After being a long time assistant under Mike Norvell, he departs to become the new offensive coordinator at Auburn.
Memphis will also be without former tight ends coach Will Hall after he opted to become the new offensive coordinator for Tulane. In addition to the loss of those two coaches on the offensive end, defensive coordinator Chris Ball will coach his final game as a Tiger. The longtime defensive coordinator for coach Norvell is set to become the new head coach at Northern Arizona University.
The injury bug has bitten Wake Forest hard in some critical positions. One of them being at the quarterback position where starting quarterback freshman Sam Hartman is done for the year. Redshirt sophomore Jamie Newman has taken over for the final five games of the season. Coincidentally, in their most recent game, Newman threw for a career-high four touchdown passes against Duke.
Other positions that are ailing in depth on the team due to injuries are at linebacker. Justin Strnad is the leading tackler on the team but is missing reinforcement. Against Florida State this season, he was the only healthy scholarship linebacker. Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson has adjusted on the season converting players to fill in the team’s needs.
Offensively, the Demon Deacons wish that Tyler Bell could have been available at some point during the year. The running back led Wake forest in rushing as a freshman but being that he isn’t eligible for a medical redshirt, his collegiate career is likely over. However, Cade Carney is coming off of a career high in rushing yards versus Duke.
Final Thoughts On Birmingham Bowl
Both teams are dealing with their fair share of changes due to absences. The team with the ability to settle down and adjust to the new gameplan will gain the upper hand. Also with the new redshirt rule in effect, look for some younger players to assert themselves as part of the team’s future.
The status of star wideout Greg Dortch will also impact Wake Forest, after suffering a finger injury he is questionable for the bowl game.