Iowa State and Memphis are both teams whose seasons didn’t end the way they would have wanted, but a bowl win would be huge for each program. Even though these teams are almost polar opposites in how they play the game, both have taken a huge steps forward in their second season under a new head coach.
Memphis, who played in the AAC championship game, has won with flashy offense all season and is favored to win this one. The Cyclones aren’t very flashy, but they always come to play. Will it be enough for them to get the win?
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Dec 30, 11:30 AM CT
LOCATION: Liberty Bowl (Memphis, TN)
FORECAST: Low 40s, Mostly Sunny
BETTING LINE: MEM -4.0
In the second year of Mike Norvell’s tenure at Memphis, the Tigers managed a double digit winning record by rolling over many of their AAC opponents and beating two Top 25 teams. Both of their losses this season have come to the same team, the conference champion UCF Knights.
Iowa State is looking to cap off one of their most successful seasons in recent memory with an eighth win. Under head coach Matt Campbell, the Cyclones have taken a big step forward this season and will undoubtedly have momentum going into 2018. Getting a bowl win would be a great way for this senior laden team to end the year.
Defense under Campbell has been a major part of that success this season. Iowa State ranks 25th in Rushing S&P+, a product of players like linebacker Joel Lanning and cornerback Brian Peavy.
Their defensive performances have allowed the Cyclones to keep most Big 12 offenses under their season scoring average. Like they have in Big 12 play, Iowa State will try to stop the run and keep everything in front of them in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
To help out that defense, Iowa State will need to take advantage of their opportunities offensively. In their last game against Kansas State, the Cyclones failed to get touchdowns in the red zone in a game that they lost by one point.
Running back David Montgomery went down with an injury in that game, but by all accounts he should be ready to go for this game. Montgomery, who made the Pro Football Focus All Big 12 First Team Offense, will help quarterback Kyle Kempt keep Iowa State ahead of the chains.
Kempt’s 1,473 yards passing isn’t overly impressive as far as numbers go, but the senior signal caller has been efficient in 2017. He completed 66.8 percent of his passes and threw only three interceptions in the seven games that he played for the Cyclones.
Big wideouts like Allen Lazard, who will probably hear his name called come draft time, will help give the Cyclones needed big plays.
Head coach Mike Norvell’s Tigers are known for their high octane offense, but they field a defense that is no doubt the weaker side of the ball. The Tigers are giving up 33.4 points per game and 196.8 yards allowed per game on the ground.
On offense, Memphis runs an uptempo spread scheme that tries to create space for their speedy athletes to make plays. Quarterback Riley Ferguson is the key to that success. Ferguson is a senior who does a good job of operating the offense and spreading the ball around. He’s thrown for just under 4,000 yards this season.
Although there are weapons aplenty on this Tigers team, they will look to players like 1,100 yard running back Darrell Henderson and 1,400 yard receiver Anthony Miller, Ferguson’s top target. Those players highlight the kind of big play ability that can be seen up and down the Memphis roster.
ISU KEYS TO THE GAME
Run The Ball Early And Often – Key to this game will be how well Iowa State can get David Montgomery going and set up play action down the field. If the Memphis defense starts to cheat up toward the line of scrimmage, that can open the door for opportunities on the outside for Kempt’s big wide receivers.
Get Six Instead Of Three In The Red Zone – As good as the Iowa State defense has been this season, Memphis will probably still find some ways to get on the scoreboard. Iowa State needs to get touchdowns instead of field goals whenever they make trips inside the red zone. If this game is as close as the oddsmakers expect it will be, the difference could be whether the Cyclones can get into the end zone when they have the chance.
Limit Big Plays On Defense – Memphis thrives on making big plays, particularly in the passing game. The Cyclones need to execute with the same level they have all season and tackle well to keep all of the Tigers athletes in front of them. Making Ferguson and the offense drive the length of the field will help limit the amount of possessions that Memphis gets and keep the game manageable for Iowa State’s offense.
To me, this game comes down to whether Iowa State can run the ball effectively. Memphis has been spectacular on offense all season, but we’ve seen the Cyclones contain other high powered attacks and stay in the game. I think Montgomery will be able to get going in this one and make it easier for Campbell’s squad to keep this one relatively low scoring. Iowa State will probably be in trouble if Ferguson and the Tiger offense are able to turn this into a high-scoring affair, but I am going to put my trust in the Iowa State defense to prevent that from happening. Cyclones by a field goal.