AMES — Iowa State football Matt Campbell has seen teams like No. 20 Memphis before.
Memphis Coach Mike Norvell built his team the same way Campbell built his Toledo team. With speed, similar to many of the schools in the Big 12.
Campbell knows what he’s in for as Iowa State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) travels to play Memphis (10-2, 7-1 AAC) in the Liberty Bowl.
“Boy, you turn this film on and have they done a phenomenal job of (building around speed) at the skill possessions,” Campbell said. “Running backs, wide receivers and tight ends, all really impressive. Then you flip over to the defensive side of the football and their skill groups are really, really impressive as well. I said when we got ready to play TCU, what jumps out in film is really good speed. That’s very similar with this group.”
Iowa State hasn’t had too many problems with teams built around speed this season. The Cyclones upset then-No. 3 Oklahoma, then-No. 4 TCU and beat teams like Texas Tech and Baylor.
On offense, Iowa State will rely on a steady rushing attack from all-Big 12 running back David Montgomery and an aerial attack led by senior all-Big 12 receiver Allen Lazard.
Montgomery ended the season banged up, getting limited snaps in the last two games of the season. Many of the Cyclones who had a heavy workload were banged up by the end.
Campbell isn’t worried about them because with bowl practices, they were able to take a few weeks off while younger players got reps.
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“David and Allen, I told both of those guys, ‘man, you guys look like I saw you coming into fall camp,’” Campbell said. “They look healthy and they certainly look a lot healthier than they did at the end of the year. We ask those guys to play a lot of snaps, and Joel (Lanning’s) the same thing on defense. Those guys, they look good and the time off was really good for them.”
But make no mistake, when it was their time to practice they were ready. This is Iowa State’s first bowl game since the 2012 Liberty Bowl, before any current Iowa State player was on the roster.
“To get that extra game as a senior, it’s huge,” Lanning said. “And then talking about the development of the younger guys in the program, we’re trying to build this place into a championship program. It’s going to start with those extra practices.”
Campbell and his staff shifted from development to game preparation at the beginning of last week.
“It’s been really enjoyable to start to look at game plan,” Campbell said. “Hopefully we’ll get 85 percent of our game plan in before we go down there. The nice thing is, it’s a Saturday game, so it’s like a normal game week. We’ll be ready to go by the time we get down there.”
Iowa State hasn’t had a lot of success in its most recent bowl games. In 2011, it lost 27-13 to Rutgers and, in 2012, it lost to Tulsa, 31-17. Iowa State needs Campbell’s game plan to pay off.
The Cyclones haven’t ended the season with a win since 2013. The Cyclones didn’t make a bowl that year.
“That’d be everything,” lineman Jake Campos said. “Going out and finally getting a bowl win and being out there and celebrating with my teammates one last time is something seniors here haven’t been able to do — much less finish on a win, but to go to a bowl and get that win would be something extremely special. It’s what we’ve been working for this whole time and what we were really trying to achieve.”
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Lazard has broken virtually every Iowa State receiving record and helped changed the culture at Iowa State, but he’s still missing one thing.
A bowl win.
“The failures we’ve had, to succeed and solidify my career here — to go out with a win will be very satisfactory,” Lazard said.
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