Failed adjustments, missed tackles plague Cyclones in Liberty Bowl


ISU linebacker A.J. Klein stares down the offense of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the Liberty Bowl, Monday, Dec. 31, in Memphis, Tenn. The Golden Hurricane won the bowl game 31-17.

Jake Calhoun

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Seeing their team blow a 10-point first quarter lead was not what the 25,000-plus Cyclone fans, who made the trip down to Memphis, wanted to see.

From the second quarter on, Iowa State (6-7, 3-6 Big 12) squandered its opportunities in a 31-17 loss to Tulsa in the 54th annual Liberty Bowl on Monday at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn.

“I thought we lacked energy in the second quarter, and I think a lot of it had to do with playing a very good football team,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads.

The early spark for the Cyclones came in the form of a 31-yard interception returned for a touchdown by cornerback Jeremy Reeves and a 69-yard touchdown catch by tight end Ernst Brun — both of which came in the first quarter.

From there, Tulsa (11-3, 7-1 C-USA) scored 24 unanswered points while limiting Iowa State to 2-of-10 on third-down conversions in those final three quarters.

After going 6-of-7 for 114 passing yards and one touchdown, redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Richardson tallied 10 incompletions and added only 15 passing yards and an interception before getting pulled in favor of senior Steele Jantz.

After the game, Rhoads said Richardson had been playing through a stomach ailment that had him nauseously vomiting the night before the game.

“I give him props for getting his go,” said senior linebacker A.J. Klein. “Today he looked bad, but last night he was even worse. Just the effort that he gave, you can’t ask much more from a young player like Sam.”

Richardson was dodging defenders left and right as a result of the offensive line’s struggles in containing the TU defensive line.

The Golden Hurricane were able to sack Richardson five times in the game for a total deficit of 16 yards.

“We did not play a physical-enough brand of football to move the sticks enough to stay on the field enough to get in the end zone, let alone get in the red zone,” Rhoads said. “Things always start at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”

After the first quarter, the ISU offense only managed one trip into the red zone, which resulted in a missed 34-yard field goal attempt by kicker Edwin Arceo.

The TU offense made the proper adjustments en route to its 317-yard performance on the ground that largely contributed to its 24 unanswered points in the final three quarters.

Among the highlights for the running game for Tulsa, Trey Watts earned the Liberty Bowl MVP award with his game-high 149-yard rushing performance. Alex Singleton left a mark of his own, tying the Liberty Bowl record for rushing touchdowns in a single game with three.

“As a defense… We didn’t tackle well,” Reeves said. “That was really about it; it’s just tackling.”

The loss is the final game for 25 seniors, including three true seniors — Klein, Reeves and receiver Josh Lenz.

“It didn’t end how I wanted it to,” Klein said. “A lot of positives came from this game and my career over four years. I’m just happy I had the opportunity to play for four years.”

Following his career-high 19 tackles — tying a Liberty Bowl record — Klein finishes his collegiate career with 361, which ranks fourth all-time in ISU history.

When it was all said and done, the outcome was a result of the teams’ preparations for the game.

“They were ready for us,” Klein said. “They game-planned what we had, what we expected to play as far as a defense. We’ve been playing the same defenses all year and we’ve done a good job at stopping the run.

“But obviously they made good adjustments and we didn’t.”