The Drive with Heather Burnside and Sean Roberts

The Drive with Heather Burnside and Sean Roberts

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Cyclones outmatched in AutoZone Liberty Bowl

AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Memphis v Iowa State

Photo: Justin Ford / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

Memphis, TN – For only the second time all season the Iowa State Cyclones (7-6) fell while being favored against the Memphis Tigers (10-3) in the 65th AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Iowa State was outcoached, outplayed, and ran off the field losing to the Tigers 36-26 Friday night. 

Going into the matchup Matt Campbell’s squad was favored by 10.5 points heading into the heavily anticipated 2017 rematch. Despite sitting only with a 7-5 record, the Cyclones on paper had the more balanced offensive attack, stronger offensive line, and a secondary that allowed nothing over their heads. Instead, the Tigers beat the Cyclones at their own game. Memphis used their elite passing game to attack the holes TJ Tampa and Malik Verdon left and while Iowa State ran for 0 yards…yes ZERO yards, the Tigers rushed for 166. Mind you, Memphis is the nation's 109th rush defense. 

“Hats off to the University of Memphis and their football team they came out especially early in the ball game that gave us challenges,” Campbell said. “Some of the shortcomings we had today will be a great spark for us in the offseason.” 

Here is how the Cyclones 2023 season ended. 

Tigers race out to lead and don’t look back 

Iowa State felt the Memphis blues all game long. Going straight to the air raid offensive attack the Tigers ran just three plays before finding the back of the endzone. Seth Henigan landed a perfectly thrown ball 70 yards down the field to DeMeer Blankumsee for the game’s first points. 

Needing to gain back some momentum, Rocco Becht and the Cyclone offense took the field for the first time. Going into the match Iowa State had been deemed the clear favorite based on their offensive line play and the Abu Sama effect. Constructing a monotonous drive, Campbell was faced with a 4th and 1 decision. Memphis saw through the shotgun formation and collapsed on Becht causing the first turnover of the night. 

Memphis would not and could not be stopped scoring on each of their next two drives each being 40-plus yard drives in five or fewer minutes. Iowa State had dug itself into a 19-0 hole with 5 minutes remaining in the first quarter. 

Some spark was regained in the second quarter when Rocco Becht started to find a rhythm despite being pressured constantly from the edges. Iowa State ranked 6th in the nation in sacks allowed with 12 entering this game and had not allowed two or more sacks since early November against Texas. Rocco survived the pressure and went a perfect 3-3 including a 28-yard touchdown to Jayden Higgins which jump-started a Cyclone stretch of 3 straight scoring drives. 

Going into the half Iowa State was down 22-13 after the defense allowed the Tigers to march up the field in under 35 seconds and kick a field goal. 

The halftime adjustments were non-existent. Due to the invisible run game, the Cyclones went three and out giving it back to the Tigers who scored a touchdown on each of their next two drives. 

Memphis’ offense exposed many issues with the Cyclone defense. Lazy tackling, miscommunication in the secondary and struggle to get to the quarterback. En route to their 10th win of the season, the Tigers’ offense combined for 530 yards while scoring on six of their 10 drives all but one under three minutes. 

Rocco’s bright future  

The Tigers outcoached and outplayed the Cyclones in every facet…well except for one part. Seth Henigan played an exceptional game and rightfully earned the AutoZone Liberty Bowl MVP Award with his 364 passing yards with a 4 touchdown performance. But the true most valuable player in Memphis tonight was Rocco Becht. 

“There is always room to get better,” Becht said. 

It is hard to think Becht could have played a better game when he was the entire offense. Becht threw for an Iowa State bowl-record 446 yards on 22-38 passing along with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. That is good enough to earn him an 182.5 QBR. Becht continued to thank his receivers, mostly Higgins who finished with 9 catches for 214 yards and a touchdown, but he also never pointed a finger at the offensive line that could not protect him. 

Memphis hurried Rocco three times including two sacks. Getting in the backfield came easy for the 109th rushing defense. It did not matter that the Tigers recently appointed their linebackers coach as their interim defensive coordinator. Cyclones could not block the edges rewarding the Tigers’ defense with -34 yards in tackles for loss. 

“I think what you saw this year was a young football team that continued to grow,” Campbell said. “I think we are all really excited about what the future brings.” 

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