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Cyclones head back to Liberty Bowl

Iowa State has been one of the best teams in the country on the road in 2017. The Cyclones have four wins away from home this season, including a victory at No. 2 Oklahoma.

That's good, because coach Matt Campbell has another road game to end the year playing Memphis in the Liberty Bowl, which takes place in ... Memphis.

It's familiar ground for the Cyclone fans, such as these things go. Iowa State's last bowl trip was also to the Liberty Bowl, but back in 2012. The following four years saw the program fade to the bottom of the Big 12, but Campbell helped lead a resurgence that led to a winning conference record and a holiday season spent on the practice field and in a fun place to visit rather than at home.

This road game may be as challenging as the one against the Sooners. Memphis was 7-0 at home during the regular season, and though Campbell urged Iowa State fans to do their part and travel to the game, there will a lot more Tigers t-shirts than Cyclones merchandise in the stands.

Iowa State has enough to worry about with what the Tigers can do on offense. Memphis averaged 47.7 points per game, second-most in the country. It fell just short of ending Central Florida's perfect season in the American Athletic Conference championship game, and put up 753 yards in its losing effort.

In previous years, that would have been the death knell for Iowa State's chances, but the Cyclones have largely risen to the challenge on defense in 2017. Only one of its last seven opponents managed more than 20 points, and it's allowed more than 30 just twice since a 44-41 overtime loss to Iowa in early September.

Instead, the big concern remains the offense. With early-season starting quarterback Jacob Park leaving the team in early October, it's been Kyle Kempt and Zeb Noland getting the snaps under center. Kempt in particular has shone in the new role, and the Cyclones have a host of talented wideouts led by Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler. Running back David Montgomery is one of the best in the country at making opponents miss.

But this hasn't translated into points in the second half of the season. Among its Big 12 losses were games in which ISU scored seven (against Texas), 16 (West Virginia) and 19 (Kansas State). It shut down then-No. 4 Texas Christian, but won just 14-7, and it managed just 23 points in a win over woeful Baylor.

Good news is that some of the reasons for that should be rectified during the break heading into the bowl game. Kempt has been sidelined by an arm injury, but should be ready for Memphis. Montgomery battled a leg injury in the final two weeks of the regular season, and likewise should be fine for the Liberty Bowl.

It's a great sendoff for seniors like Lazard who haven't enjoyed much success until now, and a building block for the younger players. And it's an especially great holiday season for Campbell, who signed a six-year, $22.5 million contract extension.





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