MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Iowa State and Tulsa don't necessarily think of the Liberty Bowl as a rematch, even though they faced each other Sept. 1 in the season opener for both teams.
So much has changed since Iowa State's 38-23 victory over Tulsa that both teams feel as though they'll be facing an entirely new opponent today in a game sponsored by AutoZone.
“Obviously they look like a completely different team, as do we,” Tulsa defensive end Cory Dorris said.
Tulsa (10-3) seeks its second 11-win season in school history. Iowa State (6-6) is aiming for its second winning season in the last seven years.
Iowa State's depth chart reveals how much has changed since these teams last met.
Steele Jantz threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score in the regular-season victory over Tulsa. He has since been replaced by Sam Richardson.
Shontrelle Johnson, who rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown against Tulsa in September, will sit out the Liberty Bowl with a knee injury. Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott, who had 11 tackles in the Sept. 1 matchup, missed the Cyclones' last four regular-season games with a shoulder injury and also won't play Monday.
“It isn't the same team we had in Week One,” Iowa State running back James White said.
White, who has rushed for 469 yards on 89 carries this season, replaces Johnson as the Cyclones' main running back. He will be joined in the backfield by Richardson, who threw seven touchdown passes without an interception and rushed for 162 yards in Iowa State's final two regular-season games.
Richardson faces a Tulsa defense that has recorded 48 sacks and 104 tackles for loss to set school records in each category. Tulsa ranks third in the nation in sacks per game and fourth in tackles for loss per game.
Tulsa recorded four sacks in its loss to Iowa State, which yielded only 10 more sacks the rest of the regular season.
“The matchup with our offensive tackles and their defensive ends will be one of the pivotal matchups in determining the outcome of the game,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.
Tulsa believes it has come a long way since Sept. 1, when it squandered a 16-7 lead over Iowa State.
“It was our first game,” said Tulsa linebacker DeAundre Brown, one of eight seniors on the Golden Hurricane's first-team defense. “We had to get our bumps and bruises over with. After that, we just became a better team and corrected our mistakes.”
They also became a more run-oriented team. In their loss to Iowa State, the Golden Hurricane attempted 49 passes and 34 rushes. Tulsa has run the ball nearly 60 percent of the time in 12 games since.
Tulsa's versatile ground attack includes three 700-yard rushers: Trey Watts (161 carries, 959 yards), Ja'Terian Douglas (129 carries, 857 yards) and Alex Singleton (187 carries, 765 yards). Singleton also has run for 21 touchdowns.
They work alongside 6-foot-4, 247-pound quarterback Cody Green, whose size makes him tough to tackle. Green, a Nebraska transfer, went 23 of 49 for 198 yards with two touchdown passes and a pair of interceptions in Tulsa's earlier loss to Iowa State.
“Offensively, we know a little more who we are,” Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. “We had a new quarterback, three new offensive linemen. On offense (in September), we weren't sure if we could run block or not. We weren't sure if we could protect. We weren't real sure what our personality was going to be like with a new quarterback. We've evolved a little more to a run-first team than we were in the first game.”
Tulsa's defense got a boost from the addition of linebacker Shawn Jackson, a three-year starter who didn't play against Iowa State in September while serving a three-game suspension.
All these changes have given this familiar matchup a new dimension.
“It still kind of feels like a rematch because watching them on film brings back memories of the game and the tendencies of the guys we were playing against, but it's also two different teams from the beginning of the season to the end of the season,” Iowa State offensive tackle Carter Bykowski said.
Tulsa should be accustomed to rematches. The Golden Hurricane edged UCF 23-21 on Nov. 17 and beat the Knights again 33-27 in overtime in the Conference USA championship game two weeks later.
The difference here is that so much time has passed since Tulsa last faced Iowa State.
“The identities of the teams are the same, (but) the personnel has changed,” Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein said. “We have two teams here who are hard-nosed teams who love to play gritty football. It's going to be a battle. It's going to be a four-quarter battle just like it was the last game.”
Tulsa vs. Iowa State
When: 2:30 p.m.
Where: Memphis, Tenn.