This Saturday’s Liberty Bowl pits Iowa State against the AAC’s Memphis Tigers, a team that has yet to face a Big 12 opponent this season.
The Tigers have been one of the best teams in the country this season, coming close to winning the AAC championship. Their 10-win season in 2017 propelled head coach Mike Norvell to a contract extension in his second year at the helm.
Q: What is the Tigers biggest overall weakness?
Defense. I don’t like to use a general unit, but the defense has been the weakness for sure. The Tigers are 99th in rush defense and 123rd in pass defense, meaning that offenses usually have their way with this group. The AAC Championship really exposed their weaknesses……and it wasn’t pretty. They’ve had some clutch moments this year but, overall, stops have been hard to come by.
Q: What is their biggest overall strength?
Passing. Riley Ferguson is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and has numerous weapons at his disposal. Anthony Miller is one of the best receivers in the country, and can beat anyone that he matches up against. When Miller isn’t available, players like Joey Magnifico, Phil Mayhue, and Tony Pollard all have stepped up in the past to make big plays.
Pollard also is the best kick returner in the country (another strength the Cyclones will surely pay attention to). I could say offense as a whole, because Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr. are a great two-headed monster in the backfield. Iowa State will have plenty of weapons to note before each play as Memphis is capable of putting up points in a hurry.
Q: Memphis has only lost two games this season. What can Iowa State do to replicate what other teams were able to do to defeat the Tigers?
I think one thing going for Iowa State is they’re used to seeing high-powered offense, so Memphis won’t provide anything in that area that they haven’t already seen. Two things come to mind, and UCF (the team that gave Memphis their two losses) did these well.
First is make Riley Ferguson uncomfortable. Throwing in different blitz packages and disguising coverages allow for turnovers to happen. Getting him on the ground often as well could have a negative effect on the offense. Whatever you can do to slow down the offense is going to yield nice dividends for Iowa State.
Second, play action. Since Memphis’ defense is youthful, they sometimes get caught not reading their keys. Play action was a killer for UCF in the AAC Championship game. Iowa State has the athletes to produce similar results. If they can slow down Memphis’ offense, putting up points with play action shouldn’t be difficult.