Memphis Tigers (10-3) vs Iowa State Cyclones (8-5)
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium – Memphis, TN
Iowa State Cyclones (21) – Memphis Tigers (20)
The Iowa State Cyclones made a lot of noise in the regular season, upsetting two top-five teams in a three-week span in October. They knocked off then No. 3 Oklahoma on October 7 and followed that up with an upset over then No. 4 TCU on October 28, so it should not surprise anyone that they knocked off another double-digit win team in their bowl game.
The Memphis Tigers came into this game after a heartbreaking loss to UCF in the AAC Championship game, and they have a bunch of talent across the board which got them 10 wins in the regular season. The Memphis offense was prolific and the matchup against Iowa State was intriguing on many levels.
It was a tight, close game that came down to the wire, but Iowa State was able to outlast the Tigers in the end. Let’s take a look at the things we learned scouting this bowl game today.
1) Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller might have had a quiet day, but make no mistake, he has a very bright future. Miller caught five passes in this game and it does not take much time for his skill to show up. He runs very precise routes and creates separation quickly through excellent footwork and has the burst to move away from defenders. He is a very exciting prospect and will have a chance to shine in Mobile at the Senior Bowl in January.
Miller is feisty and plays with a chip on this shoulder, and can be tough to get to the ground at times. He is physical enough to run through arm tackles and quick/fast enough to run away from members of the opposing secondary. He also has some wiggle and has lateral agility to make defenders miss, and that combination makes him very dangerous with the ball in his hands. All of those traits were on display on the 10-yard screen pass he took into the end zone early in this game. He is one of the players in the 2018 draft that I’d very much want my team to end up with.
2) Iowa State wide receiver Allen Lazard is a bit of an enigmatic player but he was dominant in this contest. He is a huge target and looks to have long arms and that makes him a very dangerous weapon at the college level. Lazard showed very good body control and the ability to adjust to the ball in the air to make catches in the game. He was tough to stop when the ball was under-thrown or when he ran out routes in the game, and he has the look of a player that should dominate contested catch situations. He was allowed a free release at the line of scrimmage and that gave him the freedom to break off routes and box out defenders.
However, I worry about his speed as he moves more like a tight end and less like a wide receiver and he will need to win contested catch situations all the time in the NFL because he will not create separation with his feet. That is a tough task but he definitely has the body for it.
3) Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson runs hot and cold as he can make all the throws but struggles with accuracy at times. I think this stems from technical and fundamental issues relating to his footwork and release. His release can be a touch long and if his feet are not set, he struggles to deliver the ball accurately. Ferguson made several really nice throws in this game as he put the ball into tight windows between layers of coverage.
Interestingly, when his feet were set and when he stepped into throws, he threw the ball with zip and excellent accuracy and if he can get his footwork cleaned up and more consistent, I think he can do some good things as a passer. He threw the ball really well in cold weather as the ball stayed in a tight spiral and didn’t hang up in the air. He showed excellent toughness by hanging in the pocket to deliver the ball accurately right as he was getting drilled. Ferguson showed some good things in his performance in this game.
4) Memphis linebacker Genard Avery is more than just a linebacker and his ability to rush the passer makes him an intriguing prospect as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 base scheme. While he is not super explosive, he can get from one side of the tackle box to the other to pursue the ball carrier when he is unblocked. He has a very thick lower half and is dangerous as a pass rusher because of his low center, and he showed his pass rush ability multiple times in this game. He showed advanced hand usage to get off of blocks and move past guards as he rushed the “B” gaps in this game.
Avery looked more dangerous as a pass rusher than he did as traditional linebacker and I could see a team that deploys a 3-4 base defense liking him a lot as an inside linebacker with the ability to get after the quarterback. Avery is not quick or fast but plays with outstanding leverage and power, and if he is asked to win in short areas he will be fine. Add the pass rush to that and you have an intriguing player that will go in the middle of the draft in 2018.
5) Iowa State linebacker Joel Lanning is a very fun player to watch and while he can play multiple positions at the college level, he might make a home as a monster on special teams in the NFL. Lanning moves with good fluidity and can be very quick to get up the field and through a gap. He looks athletic when he is asked to flip his hips and run in coverage in the middle of the field. He did struggle to find the ball but he has not played linebacker a long time and he needs time there.
Lanning can close quickly and showed that ability in the game on a delayed blitz when he forced Ferguson to throw the ball quicker than he wanted to. He scored a rushing touchdown in the game lining up out of the quarterback position. When I watch Lanning, I see a developmental prospect that can help tremendously on special teams immediately and there is value in that kind of player.
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