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Iowa State Football Post-Mortem: Liberty Bowl


NCAA Football: Liberty Bowl-Memphis at Iowa State Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, the Liberty Bowl. An all too familiar location for the Cyclones who took to the streets of Memphis for the third time since 2012 and the fourth time overall. This time, they’d be playing Memphis. Wait, that’s who the Cyclones played in 2017. Must’ve misread that. Let me check again.

Oh. It seems the Cyclones are playing a true road game for their bowl for the second time in six years. I’m sure that won’t be an issue at all.

What Went Wrong

Run Game

Man. It’s a real shame the Cyclones didn’t get that last play off to establish the run. One more carry for Sama (he had 12) and the run would’ve been established for sure. Unfortunately, the run establishment failed, and Sama’s 12 carries netted just 4 yards while quarterback Rocco Becht ran 8 times for -4 yards.

Yup. You read those stats correctly. The Cyclones ran the ball a total of 20 times in the Liberty Bowl and gained 0 yards.

For reference, here are Memphis’ opponents this year and their corresponding rush yards:

Temple: 135, SMU: 158, Charlotte: 223, USF: 226, UNT: 180, UAB: 208, Tulane: 144, BSU: 144, Mizz: 201, Navy: 299, ARST: 64 (lost 37-3), Bethune Cookman: 52 (lost 56-14)

The 2 largest wins for Memphis on the year were their opening two games in which they held Bethune Cookman and Arkansas State to a 52 and 64 yards respectively. Every other team ran for at least 135 yards on the Tigers defense. And then you have Iowa State. Who didn’t gain a yard. Not a one. Embarrassing.

Pass Defense

Man, if TJ Tampa (opt-out) and Malik Verdon (injury) mean that much to the Cyclone defense, we may be in trouble. Iowa State got TORCHED in the secondary the entire afternoon, particularly down the field. Allowing touchdown passes of 48, 51, and 70 yards are not what we’ve come to know of the Iowa State defense. Credit to the Memphis offense, which has been remarkable all year, but man I can’t help but think what could’ve been if those two guys were in the game.

The secondary got cooked immediately when on the third play of the game, Memphis QB Seth Henigan connected with Demeer Blankumsee for a 70-yard score. Henigan and Co. would continue to feast to the tune of 364 passing yards and 4 scores on the day, starting things off hot, and jumping out to a 19-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.


0 sacks and only 1 tackle for loss.

It was clear from the start of the game that Iowa State wasn’t going to generate any pressure. How do I know? Heacock and the defense sent blitzes. played their normal ‘rush 3’, did whatever it took to try and shake up the defense and not a single thing mattered. The Cyclones were bullied in the trenches for an entire 60 minutes (Memphis had 2 sacks and 8 tackles for loss.)

What Went Right


How about QB1, man? 22/38, 446 yards (a Cyclone single-game record), 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions. If anyone wanted to keep Iowa State in the game, it was #3. Didn’t turn the ball over, made the right throws, threw some dimes, took off when he needed (though the rushing stats didn’t amount to anything), and really kept the Cyclones within as close of striking distance as they were.

The future is bright for this young Cyclone. He’s well on his way to being the next great Iowa State quarterback. And we all know how well it turned out for the last one.

3rd down offense

If you would’ve told me that Iowa State would go 7/13 on 3rd downs, I probably would’ve said we’d have been set up pretty well. While that wasn’t the case, the Cyclones still gave themselves a chance by converting over half of their third downs. Iowa State was a middling third-down conversion team this year, sitting tied with Colorado for 64th in the country at 39%, so any time you can convert at 14% higher than your season average, I’d say you’re doing a pretty solid job. Look for that to be a focal point for this team in the offseason.

Weekly Grades

Offense: C+

Defense: D

Special Teams: C-

True Road Games as Bowl Games: F-

Memphis Weather: Why not play the game in Ames?

Roster: Young, Improving, Buying In.

Thank you all for another awesome year of the Post-Mortem. I hope you all had an amazing holiday season and a wonderful celebration of the New Year. Hopefully, we can avoid the offseason noise that we had last year and can build on what was a tremendous season of growth for the youngest roster in college football. Here’s to 2024!