Nov 4, 2023; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis TigersÕ Seth Henigan (2) rushes toward the end zone against South Florida at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stu Boyd II-USA TODAY Sports
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Iowa State will face one of the top offenses in the country on Friday when it takes on Memphis in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
The Tigers, who average 39.7 points per game, will see how their biggest strength matches up with Iowa State’s always-rigid scoring defense that ranks third in the Big 12.
“Our guys are aware of what the challenge and task is at hand, the number of points that they score,” Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “You turn on the film and it’s point after point after point on play after play after play. I have a lot of respect for this group.”
Memphis’ offense ranks as the No. 7 scoring team in the country, with quarterback Seth Henigan connecting with a number of weapons on the field.
It’s a tall task for Iowa State’s young defense, and one it will face without all-American safety T.J. Tampa, the team’s lone opt out for the game.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” defensive lineman Joey Petersen said. “(We’re going to try to) shut down parts of their offense. We’ve noticed they’re really good in the red zone – they’re a really high scoring team when they get there, so we’ll try to keep them out of there. We’ll try to keep them out of their run game and their deep shots.”
Henigan comes into the game averaging 293.2 yards through the air, which slots in at No. 10 in the country.
Throw in a 1,000-yard rusher in Blake Watson and a wideout in Roc Taylor who’s close to the same number and it’s easy to see why they impressed Heacock when he dove into the tape.
“I think it’s interesting when you watch the film,” Heacock said. “Their offense is impressive to me. When I watch and study film, trying to figure (things) out, you always look at teams that have purpose – if what they’re doing has purpose. I feel like there’s a lot of times where you feel like teams are running plays.”
Memphis’ three losses during the regular season came in games where Henigan surpassed the 300-yard mark.
It’s more successful when its operating on all of its cylinders.
“I think he has the ability to make throws,” Heacock said. “You see him on video tape and on TV copies getting them into plays. They’re obviously putting a lot on his place and he’s obviously handling it very well.”
Heacock sees purpose in the Tigers’ offense, and said that Henigan is an issue creator of sorts.
“I really feel like they’re well coordinated,” Heacock said. “I really feel like they have purpose in what they’re doing all of the time. One thing leads to something else, which leads to something else, which creates issues somewhere else. He creates issues because he’s calling the game a little bit from the field, from what it looks like. Any time guys are talented and they can do that, the combination of those two things create problems for you on defense.”
Heacock is all too familiar with challenges. His unit is something Iowa State has leaned on in recent years given its uncanny ability to derail its opponents as games go on.
But Heacock said this group — filled with young talent that was tasked with stepping into larger roles over the 2023 season — is as unique as he’s seen during his career in the sport.
“They bought in,” Heacock said. “And, I think that’s why you see they love practicing together. They love eating dinner together. They love traveling together. They love the locker room together. They love watching film together. They love studying together — this group is one of the most unique groups I’ve seen in in 40 some years.”
That’s why senior linebacker Gerry Vaughn’s answer on the plan of attack shouldn’t surprise anyone.
“We’re just going to go out there and do our job,” Vaughn said.