Iowa State Narrowly Holds off Memphis for Liberty Bowl Win

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2017

Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt warms up before the Liberty Bowl NCAA college football game between Iowa State and Memphis Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

The Iowa State Cyclones held off the No. 20 Memphis Tigers 21-20 in Saturday's Liberty Bowl at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee.

Quarterback Kyle Kempt and wide receiver Allen Lazard led the way for Iowa State. Kempt threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns, while Lazard hauled in a Liberty Bowl record-tying 10 catches for 142 yards and one touchdown.

Quarterback Riley Ferguson finished with 286 passing yards and two touchdowns for Memphis, but it fell to 10-3, failing to record the first 11-win season in program history.

The Cyclones' 8-5 record marked their best finish since a 9-3 campaign in 2000, and the bowl win was only the fourth in program history.

Iowa State led for much of what was a close game from start to finish, and the Cyclones set the tone with a touchdown less than two minutes into the contest.

Kempt found wide receiver Hakeem Butler for a 52-yard score, as seen in this video courtesy of Cyclone Football:

The Tigers answered later in the quarter, however, when Ferguson hit NFL draft prospect Anthony Miller for a 10-yard touchdown.

ISU took back the lead at 14-7 in the second quarter after a two-yard run by Joel Lanning, though Memphis cut the deficit to 14-10 with Riley Patterson's 34-yard field goal as the half expired.

There was far less offense than expected in the opening half, and much of that had to do with the teams' running games—or lack thereof.

In fact, it was the most futile first half in terms of rushing yards in more than two years of FBS play, per ESPN Stats & Info:

The teams finished with a combined 80 rushing yards, as the Cyclones' David Montgomery was held to 52 yards on 24 carries and Tigers leading rusher Darrell Henderson didn't play because of an apparent right leg injury—though Patrick Taylor Jr. finished with 68 yards on 17 carries.

Despite the lack of a running game, Memphis took its first and only lead of the game less than 90 seconds into the third quarter on a 36-yard scoring strike from Ferguson to Phil Mayhue.

Iowa State went back on top with 4:28 remaining in the quarter on a tipped Kempt pass that somehow found Lazard in the back of the end zone.

Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com colorfully described Kempt's struggles at times:

Though the touchdown pass was far from perfect, it helped the Cyclones take a 21-17 lead. It also represented an Iowa State record for Lazard, who notched his 10th receiving touchdown of the season, per Alex Halsted of 247Sports.

Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register heaped high praise on Lazard:

After the Tigers shrank their deficit to one with Patterson's 30-yard field goal late in the third quarter, the Cyclones had a chance to put the game away in the closing minutes of the fourth.

On 3rd-and-goal from the Memphis 1-yard line, however, the officials ruled Montgomery fumbled into the end zone and the Tigers recovered for a touchback.

Sports writer Jason Collette was among those who felt the zebras made a bad call:

While the play stood after review, replays appeared to show the ball broke the plane of the end zone before it slipped from Montgomery's grasp.

The fumble gave Memphis new life, but its last drive stalled at the Iowa State 40-yard line, as Ferguson threw four straight incompletions and the Tigers turned the ball over on downs.

The Cyclones performed well beyond expectations in 2017, and the bowl victory was the ideal cap to a season that also included upset wins over then-No. 3 Oklahoma and then-No. 4 TCU.

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