Iowa State can't shake slow start vs. Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The key number for Memphis in its Liberty Bowl victory was “zero.”

Not what you might expect from the winner.

But that was the important stat. Zero Tiger turnovers. Zero Memphis penalties.

And most importantly, zero yards rushing for Iowa State.

Seth Henigan threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns and the Memphis defense shut down Iowa State’s rushing game on the way to a 36-26 victory in the Liberty Bowl on Friday night.

“I think that’s how you win pretty handily against a Big 12 opponent in a bowl game,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said of the performance, citing the zeros and the performance by Henigan. “I thought it was the most complete game we’ve played all season.”

Blake Watson rushed for 107 yards as Memphis (10-3) of the American Athletic Conference amassed 530 yards of total offense and finished with at least 10 wins for the fifth time in program history.

Henigan completed 24 of 34 passes and also rushed for 27 yards and a touchdown.

The game was a rematch of the 2017 Liberty Bowl won by Iowa State 21-20. And, despite playing on the Tigers’ home field at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, the Cyclones were designated as the home team. Even with its home field advantage, Memphis was not expected to challenge Iowa State, and that motivated the Tigers.

“We were 10 1/2-point underdogs,” said Chandler Martin, who had eight tackles, including five tackles for a loss. “We had a chip on our shoulder. We were being very pinpointed, and everybody just wanted to win, and we expected to win.”

Henigan added: “Zero rushing yards is a feat in any game, but especially in a bowl game against a good Big 12 opponent. Kudos to our defense.”

Redshirt freshman Rocco Becht led the Cyclone offense, going 22 for 38 for 446 yards and three touchdown passes. But Becht supplied nearly all the offence for Iowa State (7-6), which averages 130 yard rushing per game. This time, the Cyclones couldn’t muster any rushing attack.

Both teams had their moments offensively in the first half. Memphis scored 19 points in the first quarter before Iowa State answered with 13 in the second. A 49-yard field goal by Tanner Gilliss as time expired in the first half gave Memphis a 22-13 lead at the break.

“We got behind,” Cyclone coach Matt Campbell said of the rushing problems. “So, you’re trying to play catch up, and you are trying to throw the football to get yourself back in the game.”

The Tigers extended the lead to 36-13 midway through the third quarter on two touchdown passes by Henigan, providing enough of a buffer for Memphis to claim the victory.

“What we’ve seen all season from our team is handling adversity really well,” Becht said. “You saw some spots where we were able to handle it. We just weren’t able to finish.”


Memphis: Henigan and wide receiver Roc Taylor have said they plan to return for the 2024 season, which gives Memphis a good start to its offensive attack. The bowl victory should give the Tigers momentum going into next season.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were not predicted to have a good season and matters became worse when five projected starters, including quarterback Hunter Dekkers, were caught up in a gambling probe. Becht stepped into the role and with a heavy reliance on younger players, Matt Campbell’s team played above .500 and closed the regular season with a win over then-No. 19 Kansas State. Even with Friday’s loss, the season was better than many expected.


Cyclone running back Abu Sama III, who rushed for 276 yards in his first start against Kansas State in Iowa State’s season finale, was kept in check through the game. Sama had four yards on 12 carries.


Memphis: The Tigers open the 2024 season at home against North Alabama.

Iowa State: The Cyclones host North Dakota to open the 2024 season.