Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3)
Monday, December 31, 3:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: After kicking off the 2012 season with one another, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane and Iowa State Cyclones will close things out as they meet in this year's Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee.
"There's no question that Iowa State is well-coached and obviously, like us, have gone through transition since we met in the season opener," said Tulsa's head coach Bill Blankenship. "Iowa State has tremendous talent on their football team and played an excellent schedule in the Big XII Conference."
Iowa State began the season with a 38-23 victory over Tulsa and added two more victories over Iowa (9-6) and Western Illinois (37-3), but it went 3-6 in Big 12 action to finish at the .500 mark with a 6-6 overall record. Coach Paul Rhoads guided the team to a few impressive decisions over Baylor (35-21) and TCU (37-23) and it came up just short in its regular-season finale versus West Virginia (31-24).
Blankenship's unit rebounded from its season-opening loss to the Cyclones by winning seven in a row before suffering a hard-fought road loss at Arkansas (19-15). The Golden Hurricane then won their next two games over Houston (41-7) and UCF (23-21) before losing to the inspired and now Hawaii Bowl champion SMU Mustangs (35-27) in the regular-season finale. Tulsa bounced back to down UCF in the Conference USA Championship game by six points in an overtime thriller to repeat as league champions. Blankenship was named the C- USA Coach of the Year after leading the program to a 10-3 record which included an 8-1 mark in league action and a perfect 6-0 display at home.
This will be the third meeting in history between these program on the football field. Iowa State also won the first encounter in 1961. Tulsa is also scheduled to face the Cyclones in the fourth week of the 2013 season as well.
Tulsa is one of the few teams from the C-USA that relies on its rushing attack for production. It is hard to argue with the results as the Golden Hurricane rank 11th in the FBS in rushing offense (240.3 ypg) and third in the conference in scoring offense (35 ppg). The team racked up an average of 500 yards per contest over its last four outings.
Tulsa's smash-mouth style features a stable of talented rushers, whose different styles continuously keep opposing defenses guessing.
"They are over 3,000 yards rushing on the season," said Rhoads. "This is a very talented group and they have different styles to go along with those players."
Ja'Terian Douglas (857 yards, seven TDs) and Trey Watts (959 yards, three TDs) have both shown off speed, vision, and elusiveness when handed the ball to kick the offense into higher gear. Alex Singleton (187 carries, 761 yards) is not as explosive as his co-workers in the backfield, but his bruising rushing style has yielded 21 rushing touchdowns and an average of 10.2 points scored per game.
With a run-first offense, Cody Green accepted the role of game manager for the majority of the season. However, the junior QB has evolved into more of a threat late in the season including 413 yards passing at SMU. Green enters the bowl game with 2,499 yards, 17 TDs, and 10 interceptions with a 54.5 percent completion rate.
Sophomore wideout Keyarris Garrett made three touchdown receptions versus UCF to go along with a career-high 130 yards in the first matchup against the Knights. He then added 138 yards total on 12 receptions in the regular-season finale and C-USA Championship to bring his season total to 826 yards and nine TDs on 64 catches.
The Tulsa defensive unit is the best from the C-USA with only 353.9 yards allowed and is second to UCF with only 24.2 points given up per contest. The unit has made big plays in the backfield consistently with 104 tackles for loss, 48 sacks, and 24 total takeaways.
DeAundre Brown has been one of the best linebackers in the country, filling up the stat sheet with 125 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, nine sacks, and an interception. Senior DL Jared St. John is the team's leader with 11.5 sacks and Dexter McCoil will be looking to add to his team-best total of four interceptions.
ISU was inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball this season as it scored over 30 points five times but was held to 21 or less on five separate occasions. Overall, the Cyclones averaged 25.2 points and 371.2 yards of total offense.
Freshman quarterback Sam Richardson took over the offense in the closing weeks of the season and gave ISU a glimpse of its bright future. The rookie passer did not start against Kansas, but came in to complete 23-of-27 attempts for 250 yards and four scores. The following week he went 13-of-31 for 162 yards and three TDs, but made up for his poor accuracy by gaining 119 yards on 18 rushes.
Senior wideout Josh Lenz led the Cyclones with 48 yards on four catches with a score versus WVU. Lenz tallied team-high totals of 430 yards and six scores on 29 receptions. ISU has a very deep receiving corps as 10 different players have at least 100 yards and the same number have made at least one touchdown grab.
The ISU rushing attack revolves around Shontrelle Johnson (504 yards, 115 carries) and James White (469 yards, 89 carries). Johnson's only 100-yard performance this season came versus Tulsa in the opener.
Defensively, the Cyclones allowed 444.8 yards of total offense per contest to their opposition, which ranked 98th in the FBS. However, they only gave up 23.3 points per game, which was the 36th best mark in the country.
Senior linebacker A.J. Klein was the heart and soul of the defensive unit with 98 total tackles and a interception which he returned for a touchdown.
"He (A.J. Klein) will be prepared to play both places because this is a team that has ran the ball extremely well and utilized more two back offensive sets," said Rhoads. "There's great potential for him and Jeremiah (George) to be on the field at the same time."
George is second on the squad with 83 total tackles. Durrell Givens and Jacques Washington tied for the team-lead with three interceptions each.
Although ISU downed Tulsa by 15 points to begin the 2012 season, it will find it much more difficult to do so to close the year. The Golden Hurricane have shown the ability to produce with their elite rushing attack, while limiting opposing offenses to minimal gains. The Cyclones need a big-time performance out of their rookie passer to avoid a losing record.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tulsa 34, Iowa State 28
12/31 15:06:27 ET