Iowa State Cyclones

Liberty Bowl Preview and Prediction: Iowa State vs. Memphis

Allen Lazard

Here is everything you need to know about the Auto Zone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee between the Iowa State Cyclones and Memphis Tigers with our preview and prediction.


Broadcast info

Date: Saturday, December 30th, 2017, 11:30 AM C.T., Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tennessee

TV: ABC | Mike Patrick (play-by-play), Tommy Tuberville (analyst), Paul Carcaterra (sideline)

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network | John Walters (play-by-Play) , Eric Heft (analyst), Ben Bruns (sideline)

Satellite Radio: Sirius/XM channel 80

Fun facts: The Cyclones’ two victories over AP Top-5 opponents this year doubles its career win total vs. top-5 opponents. ISU was 1-56-2 all-time vs. top-5 opponents heading into the season and was 2-0 in 2017. Meantime, Memphis and Iowa State play for the first time in the two programs histories. However, the Cyclones have twice played in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Iowa State lost 31-30 to Georgia Tech in 1972 and fell 31-17 to Tulsa in 2012.

Key players

Iowa State Cyclones

Kyle Kempt, quarterback

So Kempt dealt with a shoulder injury the last month of the season that was suffered on November 4th against West Virginia. He was not the same the rest of the season and Zeb Noland saw a lot of time at quarterback. But according to Iowa State and Kempt himself, he’s completely healthy and ready to end his career (potentially, he is applying for a 6th season of eligibility) on a high note. Kempt quickly became the leader and the heart and soul of this Iowa State team.

Joel Lanning, linebacker

Talk about another guy who defined this Cyclones team and it’s Joel Lanning, who made the move from quarterback to linebacker before the season and flourished. Lanning finished second in the Big 12 with 84 tackles, along with 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. He’s the captain of this defense and will have his hands full with an explosive Memphis offense.

Memphis Tigers

Riley Ferguson, quarterback

Everything on this Memphis offense runs through their senior quarterback, who is first in the AAC in passing yards per game (331) and threw 36 touchdowns to 9 interceptions, along with nearly 4,000 passing yards.

Genard Avery, DE/OLB

Avery is the senior leader on this defense who made his presence felt throughout the AAC season. He finished first in the conference with 19.5 tackles for loss, along with 7th with 6.5 sacks and was in the top 20 in total tackles. At 6’1”, 255, he’s a force off the end for this Tigers defense, that doesn’t get the notoriety of the offensive side of the ball.

Key storylines

Iowa State slowing down Memphis’ passing attack

Not only is there Ferguson, but he has his favorite target, fellow senior, Anthony Miller. Miller is Ferguson’s go-to guy on the outside, averaging 117 receiving yards per game, which is 22 more than anyone else in the AAC. His 7.7 receptions per game are the second most in the conference. Iowa State’s secondary has its hands full with Mike Norvell’s offense. The Cyclones ranked first in the Big 12 in pass defense, giving up just 213 passing yards per game, while their pass defense efficiency was fourth in the Big 12. Iowa State has seen some of the best pass offenses in the country this year in the Big 12, and Memphis will stack up with many of them. 

Can the Cyclones keep up?

Now that Kyle Kempt is reportedly full healthy, can he keep pace with the high-flying Memphis offense? Sure, Iowa State will do its best to slow things down, but I think the winning team probably has to hit the 30-point mark. Kempt has quality receivers on the outside like Allen Lazard, who is off to the NFL after this game, and Hakeem Butler. The Iowa State passing game was quiet down the stretch, but it needs to reignite itself one final time this season. Memphis gave up bunches of yards in the passing game, but a more fair stat to look at is that Memphis was fifth in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense.

Turnover battle

These are the two best in turnover margin. Iowa State leads the Big 12 at +11, while Memphis finished second in the AAC at +14. Memphis had 30 takeaways including 14 fumbles recovered. Iowa State didn’t give up a single fumble the entire season, which led to their impressive turnover margin. Which one of these teams makes the first big mistake that turns the tide of the game?


Iowa State 31, Memphis 28

This has been the toughest game for me to call this bowl season. But ultimately, I think Iowa State has seen so many high-powered offenses similar to the Memphis Tigers, that not much is going to catch them off guard or surprise them. If anything, Memphis’ offense is like many in the Big 12, just with slightly lesser athletes. The home field advantage will be negated because Iowa State fans are going in droves to Memphis and have completely sold out their ticket allotment. It’s going to be an exciting weekend for Cyclone Nation and the final time to send off these seniors, who helped lay the foundation for Matt Campbell’s future in Ames.

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