Memphis’ offense is one of the best in the country, but that is nothing new to the Iowa State defense. The Cyclones’ Liberty Bowl opponent (Dec. 30, 11:30 a.m., ABC) ranks near the top of college football in almost every offensive statistical category.
While facing that may have been foreign to teams in the American Athletic Conference, Iowa State faced high-powered offenses almost every week for two months.
Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State – that’s six Big 12 teams that are ranked in college football’s top 40 of scoring offenses. That gauntlet of a schedule will do a lot for Iowa State as it prepares for Saturday’s challenge vs. Memphis – a high-powered team that is ranked second nationally in scoring offense.
“This Memphis team is really talented across the board,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said after practice Wednesday afternoon in Memphis. “Very reminiscent of a lot of the really good offenses that we’ve had the opportunity to play against and see.”
Quarterback Riley Ferguson is the driver of a Memphis offense that could be compared to a high-end sports car. He’s thrown for a program-record 3,971 yards to go along with 36 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.
In fact, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior’s efficiency and ability to make plays outside the pocket prompted Iowa State linebacker Joel Lanning to compare Ferguson to a signal-caller the Cyclones faced earlier this season — Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield.
“He’s kind of like Baker Mayfield,” Lanning said. “Likes to go do his thing rolling out, making plays with his feet. So it’s going to be a good competition trying to get him stopped and trying to contain him. He’s a great player and obviously, they’ve got great playmakers on the outside as well.”
If Ferguson is the driver of the car, Memphis’ playmakers are the wheels, engine, and transmission. First-team All-American Anthony Miller is considered one of the best receivers in the country after compiling 1,407 yards and 17 touchdowns on 92 catches.
AAC special teams player of the year Tony Pollard is among the fastest players in college football and can do damage as a receiver (34 catches, 501 yards and four touchdowns), as a rusher (29 carries for 222 yards and two touchdowns) and as a return man (19 returns for 806 yards and four scores).
Darrell Henderson, the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009, and a second-team all-conference selection after rushing for 1,154 yards and nine touchdowns isn’t even the team’s leader in rushing scores. That honor goes to Patrick Taylor, who compiled a “measly” 798 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns on 140 carries.
Simply, the Memphis offense is loaded with playmakers and that brings another comparison to Lanning’s mind.
“There are weapons all over. It’s kind of like OU,” Lanning said. “They can pass it. They can run it. They can do the trick stuff. They’ve got all that stuff in their playbook. It’s going to be a great challenge. We’ve got to have our eyes right the whole time. We’ve got to be locked in the whole time because they’re going to come at us every single time.”