Iowa State Rush Offense vs. Tulsa Rush Defense
The Cyclones absorbed a huge blow when leading rusher Shontrelle Johnson injured an ACL in pre-Bowl practice. He gashed the Golden Hurricane for 120 yards and a touchdown in the season opener, but James White was productive, too — churning up 62 yards and a touchdown. Wild card: Clear-eyed DeVondrick Nealy, who says he brings “speed, speed, speed.” (Slight) Advantage: Iowa State
Iowa State Pass Offense vs. Tulsa Pass Defense
Cyclone quarterback Sam Richardson makes his second career start against one of the nation’s most sack-happy defenses. The Golden Hurricane average 3.69 sacks per game — third best in the FBS. DE Jared St. John is of particular concern. If Richardson can evade the pressure, good things will happen. Tulsa’s average in pass defense (57th, 232.7 yards per game. (Slight) Advantage: Tulsa
Tulsa Rush Offense vs. Iowa State Rush Defense
Tulsa loves to run out of the spread and Trey Watts is a dangerous speedster who broke off a 77-yard run in the season opener. He averages 6.0 yards per carry and is 41 yards shy of the 1,000-yard barrier. Backup Ja’Terian Douglas has struggled lately (23 carries, 49 yards last three games), but averages 6.6 yards per carry overall. ISU ranks 68th nationally against the run. Advantage: Tulsa
Tulsa Pass Offense vs. Iowa State Pass Defense
Golden Hurricane quarterback Cody Green doesn't strike fear in most, but deep threat Keyarris Garrett should give the Cyclones pause. He’s caught nine touchdown passes — including one against ISU — and has totaled at least 90 yards receiving in four of the past six games. ISU’s pass defense will be markedly bolstered by the return of conerback Jansen Watson. Advantage: Iowa State
ISU punter Kirby Van Der Kamp’s success this season has stemmed from accuracy, not necessarily booming the ball. He’s dropped 28 of 69 punts (41 percent) inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, including 15 inside the 10. He placed five inside the 20 against Tulsa in the season opener. Kicker Edwin Arceo has made four of last five kicks — all from 347 yards or more. Advantage: Iowa State.
Revenge is a tricky motivational tool and can bring unwanted emotions into play, but Tulsa is able to play that card if it wishes to do so. Cyclones came back from a 16-7 deficit to win 38-23 Sept. 1 at Ames. ISU’s hopes of securing a second winning season under coach Paul Rhoads (Cyclones went 7-6 in his first season in 2009) should be a stronger pushing point. The Cyclones have also dropped four of their last six bowl games and stand 1-1 under Rhoads. Going out on a winning note means a lot to seniors such as linebacker A.J. Klein, cornerback Jeremy Reeves, offensive lineman Carter Bykowski and nose tackle Jake McDonough, among other longtime denizens of the program. It’s also an an anniversary game for ISU. Forty years ago, the Cyclones lost 31-30 to Georgia Tech in the 1972 Liberty Bowl. That means something to Rhoads. And former ISU coach Johnny Majors was selected as grand marshal of the bowl’s parade this week. (Slight) advantage: Iowa State.
Iowa State will win if ... it contains Tulsa’s pass rush and provides adequate spacing for the running game. James White and DeVondrick Nealy could both average six yards per rush and Jeff Woody’s ready to gain the tough yards. Hitting that elusive 200 rushing yards mark likely translates to a second bowl win under Rhoads.
Tulsa will win if ... Trey Watts breaks off at least two big-play runs and Cody Green isn’t forced into committing turnovers. Green has thrown one interception in each of the past four games, but also has seven touchdown passes in that span. Golden Hurricane also must remain stingy against the run. They’ve held five foes under 100 yards this season.
Prediction: Iowa State 34, Tulsa 24
Three things to watch
Red zone defense. Both teams excel when opponents journey inside the 20-yard line. Tulsa is tied for seventh in the FBS in red zone effectiveness, allowing points two-thirds of the time. ISU is also solid, tied for 34th, yielding points in 78 percent of those situations. Tulsa’s allowed just two fewer red zone touchdowns than the Cyclones.
ISU’s Sam Richardson. Will he continue his turnover-free play? The redshirt freshman from Winter Park, Fla., has thrown for seven touchdowns and rushed for another while not giving up the football once. The Cyclones’ first two starters, Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett, threw a combined 15 interceptions in 10-plus games.
Pig in. ISU senior safety Durrell Givens, a.k.a. “Pig,” returns after missing all of the West Virginia loss and most of the Kansas win with and ankle injury. He’s a key backstop against the run and also has fueled a better-than-usual total of 25 takeaways this season with nine of his own. That’s tied for first nationally.