MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Iowa State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) and No. 20 Memphis (10-2, 7-1 AAC) match up well against each other.
Memphis has a potent passing attack, led by quarterback Riley Ferguson. Iowa State’s defense specializes in preventing explosive plays, ranking second in the Big 12 in passing yards.
On the other side of the ball, Iowa State’s offense rarely turns the ball over, never losing a fumble all season, and Memphis has the ability to create turnovers, forcing 30 on defense.
“There are so many of them in this game, and I think that’s what makes it a fascinating matchup,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “I think (Ferguson) is going to be a great asset in terms of when you watch Memphis play and their success. As soon as you think you’re going to be able to play coverage, they’ve got such a great ability to run the ball, I’ve been really impressed with their running game.
“Defensively, it’s all about their ability to create turnovers and the pressure they can create when they force you, offensively, to play behind the sticks. I think it’s a collective whole for them, defensively, it’s a mentality and I appreciate that when I watch those guys on defense and their ability to really force you to play behind the sticks. It really becomes their advantage. I think a lot of unique matchups.”
Individual matchups to watch are Iowa State linebacker Joel Lanning and Ferguson. Lanning often plays a spy role and keeping Ferguson in check and rushing him at the right time will be important.
On the outside, Iowa State cornerback Brian Peavy and Memphis receiver Anthony Miller will be a key matchup. Peavy proved himself to be one of the Big 12’s best cover cornerbacks and Miller leads the American with 1,407 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns.
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When Iowa State’s on offense, David Montgomery against the entire Memphis defense is one to watch. Montgomery led the FBS in forced missed tackles and Memphis leads the American in fumble recoveries with 14.
ISU fans flock to Memphis
Iowa State fans are crazy.
They took over Beale Street, packed a minor-league baseball stadium for a pep rally and sold out their ticket allotment in less than 96 hours.
They are also what Campbell is building his foundation on.
“It’s what makes Iowa State really special is the people,” Campbell said. “From the day I’ve gotten here to two years later, it’s the people. You see the support, you see the energy starting to pick up. Even around our hotel the last two days, the environment that’s created even in our own hotel – you can’t, and I can’t thank these people enough.
“The reason we’re even at this point is they’ve been the one beacon of hope that Iowa State football has had. It’s what we’ve used the last two years to really generate the excitement in recruiting and really start to sell the vision of where we think Iowa State football can go. We’re just honored we can reward them with the opportunity to play in a bowl game and have this experience.”
Iowa State's stout defense
Coming into the season, Iowa State’s front seven was a big question mark. As the season winds to an end, it’s become a vital part of the defense.
It all started to click after the Akron game when Campbell and defensive coordinator Jon Heacock were able to tweak a few things.
“I really felt good about our defense leaving spring practice and going into fall camp. I thought our linebacker crew could be one of the best in the country at the end of the year, and lo-and-behold, you have two (honorable mention) all-conference kids (Marcel Spears, Willie Harvey) and a MIKE linebacker (Lanning) named an All-American.
“I felt like we had the foundation and a start to have a really good defense. It took us a little bit because we were so young in so many ways that I wanted to lay a really good foundation to what we were doing defensively. Give credit to coach Heacock and the defensive staff putting those puzzle pieces in place to be successful.”
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