ISU CB Myles Purchase hopes his “phenomenal” late-season trajectory hits high point in Liberty Bowl

Nov 25, 2023; Manhattan, Kansas, USA; Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Will Howard (18) is tackled by Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Myles Purchase (5) and linebacker Gerry Vaughn (32) during the second quarter at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — When Myles Purchase hit his lowest point, he set his sights higher.

Iowa State’s junior cornerback was benched for the first quarter of the Kansas game early last month, but he didn’t complain. Instead, the 5-11, 205-pound junior from Denver dutifully pressed the reset button — and resolved to finish the season with a flourish.

 “(That’s) what really turned it on for me,” said Purchase, who hopes to build on his late-season improvements in the Dec. 29 Liberty Bowl against Memphis (9-3). “I didn’t start in that game, but I was able to play through that and I finished the rest of the game and had a pretty good game, and the rest of the season just kick-started me from that.”

 Purchase — who leads the Cyclones (7-5) in passes defended with 12 — may be the most experienced cornerback on the field for his team against the Tigers. Fellow cornerback T.J. Tampa could choose to sit out the bowl game to shield himself from a potential injury before April’s NFL Draft, making Purchase an even more valuable on-the-field asset than he already is.

 ISU head coach Matt Campbell said earlier this week that he fully supports players opting out of bowl games when their NFL hopes are as high as Tampa’s and he’s committed to offering the best guidance possible.

 “I think there are some guys (like) Breece (Hall) a couple years ago, where it’s a simple decision,” Campbell said. “You can’t put yourself in that spot. Breece practiced all the way through (in advance of the 2021 Cheez-It Bowl) and made the decision when it was time to make the decision. I think T.J.’s probably close to that. Again, what’s the player want to do? What’s the family want to do? And then we’re gonna support whatever’s best for our players.”

 What’s best for Purchase right now is getting as many game reps as possible. Seven of his team-best 12 passes defended came after the Kansas loss — including a remarkable four in the regular season-closing 42-35 win at Kansas State. He’ll face a Memphis offense that ranks among the nation’s top-10 in terms of scoring, but that’s nothing new. The Cyclones have played two top-10 scoring offenses already, going 1-1 in those games.

 “They’re a really explosive offense,” Purchase said. “They’ve got a couple of great receivers — on that I know well in Joe (Scates), who was here before, so they’re good. It’s something we’ve got to prepare for and somebody we’re gonna be ready for.”

 Purchase has toiled in an unenviable spot on a mostly full-time basis for the past two seasons: Opposite Tampa — an Associated Press All-American —  at cornerback. That means he’s been picked on at times, but he’s generally performed well despite being targeted so frequently. That also led to him feeling like he was in a bit of a funk at times earlier this season, so the brief benching served as a welcomed wake-up call.

 “I just felt like I was in a little slump towards the middle of the season,” Purchase said. “I’m glad I went through that so I could show that I can fight through adversity and be able to fight through challenges. I’m grateful for that, honestly, for the opportunity. It helped me in the end.”

 It also bolstered the Cyclones’ team-wide rebound this season and helped them achieve bowl eligibility for the sixth time in the past seven years. The hard knocks Purchase endured during this season will steel him for the bowl game and his final season at ISU next fall.

“There (were) a lot of expectations — and probably a lot of expectations from the head coach and everybody in our walls, as well, going into his junior year,” Campbell said of Purchase, who will make his 24th career start in Memphis. “I think he’s on a trajectory to really go have a phenomenal senior year and what a great opportunity these next two weeks to put a great exclamation point on his junior year; to fight through that adversity and have that confidence going into his senior year to be a true bell cow for our football team.”