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No Tampa, no problem: Cyclone secondary eager to step up against Memphis’ explosive air attack

Tyler Coe
T.J. Tampa adjusts his gloves during the Iowa State vs. Kansas State football game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023 in Manhattan, KS.

Iowa State is prepping to take on one of the most explosive offenses in college football and will be without a key member in what may prove to be a crucial defense-focused game.

The Cyclones take on Memphis Friday, which could prove to be a tough shootout to win if the defense does not lock in. That may prove to be even more challenging with one key player preserving his talents for the next level.

T.J. Tampa announced Wednesday that he was going to opt out of the Liberty Bowl. As Tampa prepares for the NFL Draft, he will look to stay healthy going into the offseason and not risk dropping his high draft stock with a possible injury in the extra game.

Before the announcement, Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell was aware of the possibility of Tampa opting out, and was planning to support him with whatever decision he came to.

“I think we gotta do and protect the guys that we need to protect, for themselves and their future,” Campbell said.

With Tampa not gearing up against Memphis, the Cyclones’ secondary will have to pull together and make up for a significant loss. Throughout the last couple of seasons, Tampa has been the foundation of the cornerback room, keeping balls away from any receiver that lines up across from him.

There is a reason Tampa’s lockdown style earned its nickname “Tampa Island,” as any receiver tasked with catching balls in the vicinity of Tampa is on an island. Replacing a player with the skills and experience of Tampa is no easy task.

“This team has done a really good job preparing all year, no matter if you’re the one, the two, the three,” Beau Freyler said. “Everyone’s been getting reps all year, everyone’s been preparing just like they’re gonna play each week.”

The Cyclone defense has taken hits throughout the season, and many fresh faces have taken reps on the secondary. The Cyclones have gotten used to being prepared for anything, which is why they are not sweating with the loss of Tampa.

Many players are used to stepping up now, which should bode well for their chances in the bowl game.

“When those things do happen, when someone does get hurt, when someone can’t play or doesn’t play, next man stepping up is ready to go,” Freyler said.

When another star defensive back missed time during the season, other Cyclones stepped up to take over his reps. Now that Jeremiah Cooper is back at full health, it is time for him and the players surrounding him to continue to be a dominant force in the passing game.

Jeremiah Cooper at the Iowa State vs. Kansas State football game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023 in Manhattan, Kansas. (Jacob Rice)

The Cyclones are taking on one of the top offenses in the nation in Memphis, which also boasts a strong passing game. With their backs against the wall, the Cyclones will be tasked with stepping up one last time to keep the Tigers at bay.

“All the odds are against us. That’s how it’s been all year though, so we gotta go out and show out one more time,” Cooper said.

Memphis is currently sitting as the 13th best passing team in the nation, averaging over 300 yards and 37 passing attempts per game. Without Tampa, keeping those yards off the board could be tricky.

Luckily for the Cyclones, Cooper is ready for the challenge and was excited to prove how good the secondary can be against explosive teams. Throughout the season, Cooper has been the spark on Iowa State’s offense that has fueled the offense and his fellow defensive backs with his turnovers.

“I think it has been a domino effect in terms of getting those turnovers that are critical to our success,” Freyler said. “He’s done a really good job of that, providing those big plays for the defense and for the team.”

No matter what happens Friday, the Cyclones are going to use the game as a learning experience for the future. With how young the team is and the returning players ready to make a statement, the Liberty Bowl will be the perfect stage for the team to show off its growth.

After being a month removed from the final game of the regular season, the Cyclones will be back in action for one last challenge to close out the year.

“Collectively we’re gonna have to play a great football game, and our youth is gonna have to be able to show the maturity that it takes to be able to play really well after a month off,” Campbell said.

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