People like betting on offense and that’s part of the reason Memphis is the favorite in the Liberty Bowl. Iowa State had an impressive season, but its offense wasn’t nearly at the same level. The Cyclones were in this bowl five years ago when it lost to a different high-powered offense, 31-17 to Tulsa. In fact, the Big 12 has lost Four of the last five Games in this bowl. The other part to Memphis being favorite is that this Game is at their home stadium. The Tigers were up to -3.5 point favorites as of mid-December at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
Before diving into the numbers, it’s important to note Memphis offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey moved to Texas A&M and won’t coach this Game. He led this offense to 47.8 points per Game and it’s unknown how much that will affect this group. But the reason the Tigers have two losses is that their defense isn’t good, giving up more than 30 points per Game. No matter the opponent, they usually put points on the board.
Iowa State has seen plenty of high-powered offenses in the Big 12, which makes this an intriguing matchup. The Cyclones already took down Baker Mayfield 38-31, held Texas Tech to 13 points, Will Grier and company to 20 points and went toe-to-toe with Oklahoma State. The problem may be the offensive side, which hasn’t done much and resulted in three losses in the last Four Games. But again, ISU should Scorejust fine against a Memphis defense that allowed 4.5 yards per carry and close to 200 rushing yards per Game.
Quarterback Kyle Kempt was the talk of the town for the Cyclones, but that quieted once they started losing. He still put up solid numbers starting half the season with 13 touchdowns and three picks. But this offense will lean on David Montgomery, who is returning from an ankle injury suffered in the regular season finale. He finished with 1,094 yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.7 yards per carry and could be set for a huge Game. As long as that happens, this offense will Scoreenough to keep this Game competitive. Even then, Kempt completed almost 67 percent of his passes and he’ll have plenty of success with top wide receiver Allen LAzard. That said, winning and covering this Game will fall to the defensive side.
The Cyclones have shown they can stop high-powered offenses, but it’s not like they didn’t give up 49 points to OK State. Memphis has the tools to score, but hasn’t exactly faced a good defense this season playing in the American conference. Yet, according to ESPN’s defensive efficiency rankings, Houston ranks around the same level as Iowa State, and Memphis beat the Cougars 42-38 even with only 30 rushing yards on 1.3 yards per carry.
And that’s how Iowa State will win this Game with a rush defense that’s held opponents to 3.7 yards per carry. The Tigers have huge numbers between running backs Darrell Henderson (1,154 yards, 8.9 ypc) and Patrick Taylor (798 yards, 13 TDs), but if those guys don’t find room, this one could get interesting. Quarterback Riley Ferguson is still there to light it up after throwing for almost 4,000 yards to go with 36 touchdowns and nine picks. Wide receiver Anthony Miller is the guy to stop because no one else has been able to this season en route to 1,407 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Memphis is at home, but Iowa State has already dealt with teams like Oklahoma in Norman, so this isn’t a completely new situation. Even if it’s hard to predict a winner, it’s known that points will be scored between these teams with the over/under at 66.
The Cyclones are 5-0-1 ATS in their last six road Games and the Tigers are 3-0-1 ATS in their last Four home Games. Memphis is also 4-10-1 ATS vs. a team with a winning record and 1-4 ATS in its last five bowl Games. This is Iowa State’s first bowl since 2012 and first with head coach Matt Campbell.
Our Pick – Penn State -1.5