Here are three keys for an Iowa State victory in today's AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
1. Make Cody Green beat you. Iowa State's been pretty good at taking away opponents' strengths throughout the season and held Kansas State to just 65 total rushing yards in a near upset in Ames. The Cyclones' best shot for victory is to solidify the front seven and make Green beat them with his arm. Tulsa won games by running the ball this year, and in their last meeting, Green threw two interceptions and completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes. He's thrown interceptions in each of his past four games, and if Iowa State can slow the run game and make Green throw the ball 30-40 times, the odds are in the Cyclones' favor.
2. Make life easy for Sam Richardson. Richardson is a young guy with a lot of potential, but you can't ask the ISU quarterback to drop back 50 times and win you a game. This starts on the offensive line and with play calling. It's important for the young Richardson to get off to a good start to establish some rhythm. That means a few screens, slants or short plays to get him rolling and some solid balance with the running game. Last year in the Pinstripe Bowl, Jared Barnett got off to a poor start and it snowballed before he was benched. If Richardson gets benched for similar reasons, Iowa State's not winning this game, barring a herculean defensive effort.
3. Slow it down and keep the game low scoring. Iowa State doesn't have a ton of offensive firepower, and surely you've seen the statistic about Paul Rhoads' career with the Cyclones. Under Rhoads, Iowa State is 20-1 when opponents score fewer than 24 points in regulation. When opponents score more than 24 points, he's a staggering 1-22. (He's 2-3 when opponents score exactly 24 points.) That's just the way it is, and you don't need me to explain the odds if this turns into a shootout.