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AutoZone Liberty Bowl – Memphis vs. Iowa State

Liberty Bowl Memphis Iowa State

Memphis has long been associated with Beale Street, Barbeque, the Blues, and Elvis. This time of the year football fans associate it with another long tradition, The AutoZone Liberty Bowl. It’s the seventh oldest college bowl game starting in Philadelphia in 1959. It moved to Memphis in 1965 and has been there ever since. On December 29th, the AutoZone Liberty Bowl will pit the Memphis Tigers against the Iowa State Cyclones. These two teams have only met once before in the 2017 Liberty Bowl. Iowa State won that tight contest 21-20.

The Tigers had an impressive year going 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the AAC (American Athletic Conference). That placed them fourth in the conference. The Cyclones had an up-and-down season finishing 7-5 overall, but with a more impressive Big 12 record of 6-3. They too were fourth in their conference. This game could be a good matchup with an edge being given to Iowa State. Despite the disparity in their records, perhaps that edge exists because Iowa State is in a more competitive conference. The Cyclones are currently a 9.5 point favorite.

What’s Up with the Hometown Tigers

Memphis has one of the best offenses in the country ranking 14th in passing yards per game (301.7) and seventh in points per game with 39.7. Besides having a decent offensive line, quarterback Seth Henigan is quite efficient at what he does. He averaged 66.5% in pass completions for a total of 3,519 yards, 28 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. These days a running quarterback would be a prerequisite and Henigan is close. He scored four touchdowns getting 247 yards on the ground. However, don’t expect his legs to be a threat.

When it comes to the running game, the Tigers do have a thousand-yard back in Blake Watson. He had 177 rushes for 1,045 a team high and an average of 87.1 per game plus 14 touchdowns. But his talent isn’t with his legs alone. Watson leads the team with 50 receptions for 483 yards and three touchdowns.

On the flip side of this, the offense is perceived to be carrying the team. Memphis’ defense is ranked 93rd in the FBS giving up 29 points per game. Shifting the game balance is an offense that averages 39.7 points per game. The Tiger pass defense has been giving up 253.2 yards per game, the offense has been racking up 301.4 yards per game. One might say it’s one step back, then two steps forward. That formula got the cats nine wins, but that might be a tough balancing act against Iowa State.

It’s not all gloom and doom since there are a couple of defensive standouts to watch. Lineback Chandler Martin has 81 tackles, 10 for a loss, two sacks, and two interceptions. Defensive back Cameron Smith leads the team with three interceptions and 47 tackles.

Cyclones in the Forecast

Just like the Tigers, Iowa State has an equally good, or better, offense. They averaged 358.2 yards per game and 26.3 points per game. But, looking at their schedule, one might understand the nature of a roller coaster season. Three of their five losses came against ranked opponents Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. But they also had wins against Oklahoma State, and TCU, and finished the season impressively beating No. 19 Kansas State 42-35.

Offensively, the Cyclones have some key players that evenly match or best Memphis in some cases. At quarterback, Rocco Becht completed 63.5% of his passes recording 2,674 yards for 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His key receivers Jayden Higgins and Jaylin Noel finished in the top 10 of the Big 12 in receiving yards, Higgins with 769 yards, and Noel with 741. On the ground, Abu Sama III had 610 yards on 72 carries and six touchdowns.

Defensively, Iowa State runs a 3-3-5 scheme, which might prove tricky for the Memphis passing offense. One of the standouts in the Cyclone secondary is defensive back Beau Freyler. He leads the team with 95 tackles, two for a loss, one sack, and three interceptions. But leading the team in interceptions is Freyler’s fellow defensive back Jeremiah Cooper. He has five interceptions, 36 tackles, and one for a loss.

The Cyclones defense is allowing 21.67 points per game, 33rd in the FBS. They’ll be testing that against an offense that scores an average of 39.7 points per game.

A High Scoring Game?

Obviously, this is a home game for Memphis, so there is an advantage for them. That may make a difference for them early in the game, but momentum has a tendency to fade as the game progresses. In the last seven games, Iowa State only lost two of them, and that was to a No. 21 Kansas and a No. 7 Texas. But these are two high-flying offenses who have had extra time to prepare for this game. Expect a high-scoring contest that will leave only one team ten feet off of Beale.

The AutoZone Liberty Bowl kicks off Wednesday, December 29th at 3:30 pm Eastern, and can be seen on ESPN.


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