There are a few thumb rules that govern you as a football team. That is if you plan on winning a game here and there. One of them is don’t turn the ball over. The second item on this agenda is to control and make good use of the clock. The Oregon Ducks could do neither against Iowa State in the 2021 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
As a result of their inability to hold on to the football and execute good clock management, the Ducks wound up absorbing a rather lopsided 34-17 loss.
“Obviously, we didn’t play up to our standard,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said during a postgame press conference. “Certainly, it is a game of execution and a critical situation. We didn’t coach well enough or didn’t execute well enough. We take losses as a team. We don’t point fingers. That’s it.”
As a team, Oregon collectively could not find the groove they had when they beat USC for the Pac-12 championship back on Dec. 18. The alteration in the Ducks’ game flow pattern was four turnovers. Iowa State forced three Oregon fumbles in the second and third quarters to build up a 31-17 lead.
The Cyclones outscored the Ducks 24-10 in those two periods. Piling up on top of the turnovers was the fact that Iowa State pretty much owned the clock for the entire game. The Cyclones had the ball for just a shade over 42 minutes. The Ducks had possession of the ball for less than 20 minutes (17:12). That is not how you win a ballgame.
“We only got one possession the first quarter,” Cristobal said. “They were able to sustain some long drives and were moving the ball well offensively in the first half. And scored some points and negated ourselves a touchdown with the penalty. In the second half — again, credit to them because they’re forcing turnovers. We gave up the ball a couple of times, and the defense was on there for a long period of time. Spent a lot of time on the field, and fought their tails off to give us an opportunity on several occasions to get the ball back. But we weren’t able to execute and get that done.”
The loss was a big step backward for Oregon and a huge win come up for Iowa State. But then again, some may question why Iowa State was competing against Oregon in the first place considering how the Ducks backed their way into the Pac-12 title game. Oregon finished second in the Pac-12 North Division behind Washington.
The Huskies opted not to play in the Pac-12 championship, thus creating an opening for the Ducks to scoot in. Oregon pulled off a shocking 31-24 win against the Trojans and earned the right to play in the Fiest Bowl. Whatever spark Oregon displayed against USC wasn’t there against Iowa State.
With Iowa State dominating the time of possession, Oregon’s defense looked gassed the longer the game went on. Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux would disagree with that assessment.
“I don’t know if you would necessarily say wear on us, but there were some plays we left out there that we should have stopped,” Thibodeaux said. “You know, if you start off and you win the first down, it will be easy to win the next two. But early on, we kind of lost some of the early plays, so they kind of got in a rhythm before we did.”
Stepping in rhythm was something Iowa State running back Breece Hall was able to do against the Ducks. Hall rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries to carry the Cyclones to the upset victory.
“Breece is a great player,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said. “As great as he is, I think there’s growth for Breece Hall to continue to be even better. I’ll really look forward to going back and watching this game because I think it would be very unfair of me to make a statement of where this game ranks in Breece’s games. Breece is a really special player. He’s continued to get better, and there’s still room for improvement, which is really exciting for me. We’ve been fortunate to coach some great backs, and Breece certainly is one of the great backs in our time that we’ve been able to coach.”
The Cyclones’ win was more than a one-man show. Hall had some help from the other side of the football. Iowa State’s defense kept Oregon’s explosive offense in check. That would be the great equalizer for the Cyclones to have a chance to win the game.
Iowa State limited Oregon to just 86 yards rushing and did not allow the Ducks to make a single third-down conversion. Without converting on third down, Oregon’s offense had to quickly get off the field except when they weren’t turning the ball over. This played well into the hands of Iowa State’s defense, Oregon wide receiver Mycah Pittman said.
“It’s just Iowa State. When they got up, they played very conservative and they ran the ball a lot,” said Pittman. “At the end of the day, that’s good coaching on their end. And it’s very frustrating to be on the offensive side, see them run out a whole quarter. And it was really — it is what it is, man. And at the end of the day, they coached very well and they were prepared for us. And we just had turnovers where I feel like it
really could have changed the way we really could have came out with that win.”
Iowa State linebacker Mike Rose said forcing turnovers was almost like a mandate for the Cyclones coming into the game.
“That’s a big stress on every game, for sure,” Rose said. “Going into it, we knew that the teams that did beat them this year won the turnover margin. So that was huge. And, obviously, getting, I believe, four of them, that gives — if you are plus one in turnover margin, I mean, that gives your team a great chance to win the game. And that’s what we did today.”