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Tigers Upset the Cyclones 36-26

Tigers Upset the Cyclones 36-26

It was a frigid Friday afternoon in Memphis, TN, as the AutoZone Liberty Bowl kicked off. The Iowa State Cyclones were favored by nine and a half points, despite an up-and-down season. They were left with a 7-5 record, 6-3 in the Big 12.  Their opponent, the Memphis Tigers, was flying a little higher with a 9-3 overall record, and 6-2 in the AAC. However, in hindsight, if one was a betting person, it would have been wise to take the underdog and the points, as the Tigers upset the Cyclones 36-26.

From the opening kickoff to the final zero on the clock, Memphis didn’t take its foot off the pedal. Three plays into his initial drive, following the opening kickoff, Tiger quarterback Seth Henigan hit his wide receiver Demeer Blankumsee for 70 yards and six points. The extra point was missed, but it was of no consequence as there was no looking back for Henigan, breaking school records along the way and earning MVP honors. He hit 24 for 34 (70.5%) 364 yards, and four touchdowns. For good measure, he added six runs for 27 yards and a touchdown.

This was the Tigers’ third straight bowl win, which made head coach Ryan SIlverfield’s bowl record 3-0 since taking over the helm in 2019. There was a missed opportunity due to Covid.

Zero is the Magic Number

Memphis lost its defensive coordinator Matt Barnes following the regular season. He headed to a new coaching position at Mississippi State. Still, the Memphis defense, now under the leadership of linebacker coach Jordon Hankins, held the Cyclones to zero yards rushing. In the second half, the Tiger defense forced two critical three-and-outs, handing it off to the offense to build a 23-point lead. That stat wasn’t missed by their quarterback. Henigan had a great appreciation for their defense in a post-game presser. “Zero rushing yards is a feat in any game, but especially in a bowl game against a good Big 12 opponent. Kudos to our defense,” Henigan said.

Defensive player of the game, Chandler Martin, had eight tackles, seven solo, five for a loss, and one sack. In his post-game conversation, Martin was upset at being underdogs from the start. “We had a chip on our shoulder. We were being very pinpointed, and everybody just wanted to win, and we expected to win.”

Besides allowing zero rushing yards, the Tigers created zero penalties, and zero turnovers. That certainly helps when going for a win.

Iowa State Created Anxiety for Tiger-Faithful

The Cyclones fought to stay in the game, and Memphis fans stayed anxious. Their ace quarterback Rocco Becht threw 22 for 38, 446 yards, and three touchdowns, impressive by anyone’s standards. Their standout running back Abu Sama III, ran 12 times but was only able to muster four yards. Those were erased from a running attempt by Becht that resulted in a four-yard loss. Thus, the rushing total for the Cyclones equaled zero.

Junior wide receiver Jayden Higgins had nine receptions for 214 yards and one touchdown. That’s nearly half of the offensive yardage for the team.

In the preview of this game, special note was given to defensive back Beau Freyler. Going into the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, he led the team with 95 tackles, two for a loss, one sack, and three interceptions. In the matchup with Memphis, he did not disappoint. Freyler had 11 tackles, 10 of them solo.

As to the loss, Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell had praise for Memphis in his post-game press conference. “I think they had a really good plan to come out in the football game and do some things that certainly stressed us, but they made some big plays,” Campbell said. “We just kind of put ourselves behind the 8-ball early on. I give them a lot of credit and at the end of the day, I think there are some areas for myself as a head football coach that could have been better to help our kids out.”

Oh Yeah, Those Records

Those 364 passing yards helped Henigan put his mark on a new career school record for passing with 10,764 yards. He also became the first Tiger quarterback to complete 300 passes in a single season. The good news for Memphis is that Henigan intends to return for a fourth season in 2024.

As far as the team goes, this win puts the Tigers at 10-3 on the season, only the fifth time they’ve had 10 wins in the program’s history, and the fourth since 2014. That’s a trend they certainly want to continue.

Silverfield was appreciative of his players and wants to continue as well. “108 years of Memphis football,” Silverfield said. “To be the fifth team ever to win 10 games…It’s been an absolute honor to coach this wonderful group of young men. They’ve gone through so many trials and tribulations, but they continue to persevere.”

As far as looking back on the season and how they did it, he was a bit more philosophical. “This season was unique, as we found ways to win games that maybe in the past we hadn’t,” Silverfield said. “College football has changed so much, but it’s still about building a program, and doing it the right way. My number-one job is to serve these young men. And that’s not going to change. This was a great way to put a ribbon on a fantastic season.”


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