Preview: 65th AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Check out Steven McCash's preview of The AutoZone Liberty Bowl between the Memphis Tigers and Iowa State Cyclones!

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The 65th iteration of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl is set to take place this afternoon from Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium between the University of Memphis and Iowa State. The Tigers of Memphis come in at 9-3 finishing third in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and is in search of a 10-win season for only the fifth time in program history and fourth time since 2014. The Cyclones went 7-5 placing fourth in the Big 12 and is 1-2 all-time in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. 

The Memphis faithful will be looking for revenge as this is a rematch of the 2017 AutoZone Liberty Bowl that the Cyclones were victorious in, 21-20. There is bound to be more offensive fireworks in the rematch as the Tigers come in to the game averaging 39.7 points a game and have scored 20 or more points in 26 straight games which is the longest such streak in the nation. Iowa State’s offense is led by quarterback Rocco Becht who threw for over 2600 yards and 20 touchdowns while being named Big 12 Freshman of the Year. 

The Tigers rank 7th nationally in scoring offense and are especially hard to get off the field as they rank 25th in the country in both red zone offense and third down conversion percentage. Iowa State boasts a very opportunistic defense that loves to take chances in hopes to force turnovers. The Cyclones rank sixth nationally in interceptions with 16 and will be looking to force Memphis QB Seth Henigan to make some tough throws they can capitalize on. 

Henigan, who has committed to return for his senior year in 2024, enters the game 321 passing yards shy of the school’s career passing record and will be hoping to add his name to the program’s record book again with a big game and to make it 18 games with at least 300 yards passing. His counterpart, Becht, has completed 72% of his passes in the Cyclones last four games with 7 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Becht will rely heavily on his two top receivers, Jayden Higgins and Jaylin Noel, to take advantage of a Memphis defense that gave up over 420 yards a game. 

Iowa State lost running backs Eli Sanders and Cartevious Norton to the transfer portal, leaving them with true-freshman Abu Sama as their primary option in the backfield. Sama was a main factor in the Cyclones upset of Kansas State in the season finale as he rushed for 276 yards and three touchdowns in his only start of the season. Memphis will have to keep an extra eye on the freshman or else they may be chasing him from behind all game long. 

Iowa State is led by head coach Matt Campbell who is in his 8th year in Ames. Campbell is 53-47 in his tenure at Iowa State and is the only coach in school history to have beaten every league team at home and on the road. The three-time Big 12 Coach of the Year also owns the best career winning percentage in Iowa State history. 

Standing across the field from Campbell will be Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield who has been leading the Tigers since he made his head coaching debut at Memphis against Penn State in the 2019 Cotton Bowl. Silverfield has led the Tigers to a 30-19 record in his time at Memphis and brings a 2-1 bowl record to this year’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Iowa State Keys To Winning

Keep Rocco Becht upright. Memphis had 21 sacks on the year and forced 11 fumbles while recovering 9 of them. Giving Becht time to find open receivers will be key as the Memphis defense has forced at least one turnover in 24 of their last 30 games, piling up 54 takeaways during that span. 

Run, run, run the ball. The Tigers gave up 168 yards a game on the ground ranking 100th nationally. The Cyclones offensive line should be able keep the Memphis defensive line at bay opening multiple opportunities for Abu Sama to reach over 100 yards for the second time in the past three games and possibly for over 200 in back-to-back outings.

Memphis Keys To Winning

Get off the field. Memphis is one of the country’s best teams at getting off the field. Teams are only converting 31% of third-down chances and when teams look to convert on fourth-down, the percentage is even less so it will be key not to give up big plays in order for the Tigers to score the upset.

Get the ball to your weapons. Running back Blake Watson ranks 18th in the nation in all-purpose yards with 125 a game. Watson had 14 touchdowns on the ground and added another 3 through the air, good enough for eighth in the NCAA. Wide Receiver Roc Taylor averaged over 80 yards a game and his battery mate Demeer Blankumsee added 825 yards receiving to Taylor’s 981. Henigan likes to share the ball as he completed passes to 13 different receivers and 10 of them scored touchdowns as well. 

Steven McCash is the Lead Music Writer and Utility Man for SoBros Network. Steven is the host of the ‘Drinking With…’ podcast, and the pioneer of New Music Friday, highlighting each week’s new releases in the world of music in addition to the occasional live show review. He also pitches in as a Nashville lifestyle writer and football analyst (hence the ‘Utility Man’ title). Follow on Twitter: @MC_Cash75

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