GLENDALE, Ariz. --- Oregon, for the second time in as many years, found itself playing in a New Year Six bowl game.
This year, the result was different.
Here are five takeaways from Oregon’s 38-17 Fiesta Bowl loss against Iowa State.
Oregon was its own biggest enemy on Saturday in the desert.
The Ducks committed four turnovers, all at costly points in the game.
The first came on Oregon’s second offensive possession. They had a chance to respond to another long Iowa State drive and tie the game. Two plays into the drive, Travis Dye fumbled the ball deep in his own territory and immediately put Iowa State in the red zone following the recovery. Due to an impressive defensive stand by the Ducks defense, the Cyclones were unable to churn out points.
The second came at a costly time in the game. Oregon’s offense was sputtering, and its defense reeling.
Oregon’s defense was finally able to get off of the field and force an Iowa State punt in the third quarter, but a special team’s blunder happened. Mykael Wright, who did not hear the signal for a fair catch, was attempting to block for a punt return when the ball bounced off of his head and back into the Iowa State possession. The Cyclones were able to turn it into three points.
Despite the Cyclones only scoring three points, it cushioned a lead that was built in the second quarter where Iowa State outscored Oregon 21-10.
The last two turnovers were nails in the coffin for an Oregon team that already looked buried. Backup quarterback Anthony Brown coughed up a fumble late in the third quarter. If there was any hope, it was quickly dashed as Tyler Shough threw an interception into the hands of Mike Rose.
After being one of the best teams in turnover margin last season, Oregon’s been plagued with committing turnovers all season long and the trend continued on Saturday.
A broken carousel
Going into the Pac-12 championship, Oregon had one starter at quarterback.
Shough was Oregon’s starter all year, and Brown didn’t see the field all season until Oregon displayed both quarterbacks against USC. Oregon continued this new trend in the Fiesta Bowl.
Oregon’s first drive featured Shough under center, and he helped prove why he had been the starter all season. Shough completed all three of his pass attempts en route to the redzone. Near the goaline, Oregon utilized Brown much like they did against USC. Brown cashed in on the opportunity, rushing for a six-yard touchdown and tying the game.
Head coach Mario Cristobal “stayed with the hot hand” and kept Brown in the game as the primary starter until the third quarter. Brown trotted out on the field as Oregon was pinned deep in its own end zone and led the Ducks down the field, scoring yet another rushing touchdown to cap off an impressive drive.
Despite an efficient start from Brown, he began to waver. Outside of the 14 points that came from Brown, nothing else significant came from the offense with Brown as the starter.
Shough did not see the field until the third quarter, where he was only on the field for two plays until replaced by Brown which led to the aforementioned fumble. Shough, an Arizona native, wasn’t expecting this to be the game plan during the game for the Ducks.
“It was mainly drive to drive,” Shough said. “We had somewhat of an idea just because we were splitting reps a little bit. Obviously didn’t know what was going to happen but just did the best with what I could.”
The decision to have a quarterback carousel for the second game came back to bite the Ducks.
This now creates an interesting situation amongst Oregon quarterbacks. Shough, a sophomore, will be back at Oregon if he chooses. Brown, who is granted another year of eligibility, could be back as well. Joining the fray, amongst other quarterbacks, will be five-star recruit Ty Thompson, who is likely to compete for the starting job as well.
Special teams blunders
Special teams has been a sore spot for the Ducks all year, and it carried over to Saturday.
The Cyclones caught Oregon completely off guard. Iowa State, following a touchdown, wanted to build its margin and exploit Oregon’s special teams, which was problematic all game. Kicker Drake Nettles, perfectly pooched a ball right over the head and out of the reach of Oregon tight end DJ Johnson’s arms. The ball bounced straight back into the hands of Iowa State; they were able to find the end zone in only three plays with 21 seconds to go, making the score 28-14.
“That’s not DJ’s fault,” Cristobal said. “He was trying to get it, and on the sideline, all of us were trying to get him to get away from the ball. He was just trying to judge it, so that’s not his fault.”
Regardless of whose fault it was or wasn’t, it was a special teams blunder that helped swing the momentum heavily into the favor of Iowa State. The Cyclones were able to have a 14-point swing in just a matter of minutes to close out the second half.
The Ducks also decided to place third string quarterback Cale Millen on special teams, who was targeted against USC as they forced him to try and block. Millen was not the suitable pick to be on kick off, as Iowa State used the same method as USC and it proved to be successful.
Along with the aforementioned punt mishap, Oregon struggled to keep itself in the game with all the self-inflicted wounds.
Iowa State is going to Iowa State
The Cyclones played their brand of football, which led to dominant results.
They outcoached and outplayed Oregon in every facet of the game.
Iowa State held the ball for a total of 42 minutes and 48 seconds, which completely gassed the Oregon defense. Paired with 85 total plays to Oregon’s 17 minutes and 46 total plays, they dominated the Ducks on the offensive side of the ball.
Oregon, who is the first team in the 50-year history of the Fiesta Bowl to never convert a third down in the game, struggled to keep Iowa State off the field on the third and fourth down. The Cyclones went 11-for-19 on third down and 2-for-3 on fourth down. The Ducks went a total 0-for-7 on third and fourth down, respectively.
Iowa State continued the formula that led them to its first New Year Six bowl victory in the history of the program. It used long drives that drained Oregon’s defense and an aggressive third down approach that kept the Ducks reeling.
There’s always next year
Following a disappointing loss, Oregon has a lot to look forward to.
The Ducks were one the youngest team, by percentage of underclassmen, in the nation this year by percentage of underclassmen, so they will be welcoming back a majority of the roster.
Along with the young team, Oregon is welcoming an historic class. Oregon, as of now, has the sixth best recruiting class in the nation, which is its highest ranking in the history of the program.
The back-to-back Pac-12 champions have plenty to look forward to and build on for next season despite a subpar ending to their 2020-21 campaign.