|Tulsa's running game and defense proved too much for Iowa State to handle in the Liberty Bowl. (AP Images)|
The rematch between Iowa State and Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl flipped the script from the first meeting between these two teams, as the Golden Hurricane rallied from an early deficit to win 31-17 on Monday.
Iowa State was strong early, pushing the team out to a 17-7 lead in the first quarter. But just like the first meeting, when Tulsa jumped out to a 16-7 edge, the early stages weren't decisive.
Tulsa's running game gradually wore down the Cyclones' defense. Of the Golden Hurricane's 409 total yards, 316 came on the ground. Tulsa scored 24 unanswered points to end the game.
It wasn't any better on the other side of the ball for Iowa State. The game could have gone another four quarters and ISU might not have scored again. ISU's last seven drives covered 3, 7, 5, 5, 4, 18 and 7 yards, respectively. With freshman QB Sam Richardson struggling, coach Paul Rhoads turned to former starter Steele Jantz down the stretch. Jantz didn't fare any better, though, and Tulsa cruised to a win that was easier than the score indicated.
When the game turned: Not long after Iowa State took its 17-7 lead. The teams exchanged punts, and then the floodgates opened. Tulsa ground its way to two long touchdown drives to take the lead, and with its defense putting the clamps down on ISU's runners (and Richardson struggling to make anything happen through the air) it was all but over.
Highlight moments: Iowa State managed two highlight-worthy plays: a 69-yard touchdown reception for TE Ernst Brun Jr. and a 31-yard interception return for DB Jeremy Reeves. Other than those plays, both of which came in the first quarter, this was a forgettable game for the Cyclones. Tulsa may have dominated, but there weren't many conventional highlights; it was a ground-and-pound style that gave the Golden Hurricane their victory. RB Alex Singleton's third touchdown rush, a 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal, felt like the decisive blow, though.
Video highlight via ESPN
Significance of Tulsa's win: It was a big win for Conference USA, which finishes the bowl season at 4-1. The Golden Hurricane atoned for their season-opening loss at Iowa State and finished with 11 wins for the first time since 2008, back when Todd Graham was in his second season. The running backs and offensive linemen played with an attitude and made a respectable run defense look hopeless for most of the game. It was a statement win for the program.
Significance of Iowa State's loss: This one had to leave Rhoads confounded. The strength of his defense all season was in the front seven, but Tulsa was dominant up front and ran right at ISU the entire game. Rhoads' teams have always been mentally tough, but they melted down in the face of adversity on Monday, repeatedly committing costly penalties (nine for 84 yards, including a few that prolonged Tulsa drives). Richardson's struggles won't exactly inspire much confidence in the QB position this offseason, as Jantz is now gone and the youngster will be expected to take the reins of the offense next season.
- Tulsa RB Trey Watts: 25 carries, 149 yards
- Tulsa RB Ja'Terian Douglas: 8 carries, 79 yards
- Tulsa RB Singleton: 15 carries, 35 yards, 3 rushing TDs
- Tulsa QB Cody Green: 11-of-23, 93 passing yards, 10 carries, 58 yards, 1 TD.
- Iowa State DB Reeves: 31-yard INT return touchdown
- Iowa State TE Brun: 4 receptions, 102 yards, 1 TD.
Numbers you should know:
1 -- Number of drives covering more than 18 yards Iowa State managed in the final 48 minutes. The Cyclones had a 49-yard drive that ended in a missed field goal late in the second quarter, but averaged only 6.2 yards per possession on their other 10 drives in that span.
6 -- Number of passes Tulsa attempted in the second half, as the Golden Hurricane moved almost exclusively on the ground. It worked well enough, as Tulsa outscored ISU 10-0 in the third and fourth quarters.
3-26 -- Iowa State's record under Rhoads in games in which it allows 24 or more points. Conversely, the Cyclones are 21-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 24 in the same span. Monday's result held true to form.
11:04 -- Tulsa's edge in time of possession thanks to its running game. The Golden Hurricane rushed 60 times and averaged a gaudy 5.3 yards per carry as a team -- and that includes two kneel-downs at the end of the game.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big 12 bloggers C.J. Moore and Patrick Southern, follow @CBSSportsBig12 on Twitter. You can also follow C.J. (@cjmoore4) and Patrick (@patricksouthern).