2020 Game XII: Fiesta Bowl #10 Iowa State (8-3, 8-2) vs. #25 Oregon (4-2, 3-2 Pac-12)
Date: Saturday, January 2nd, 2021
Time: 3:00 P.M. CST
Location: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, AZ
Capacity: 63,400, (unfortunately, no fans)
Line: Iowa State -4
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
SB Nation Website – “Addicted to Quack”
Well, here we are. This season has come to a final conclusion, and as much as I would love to see this team keep playing, this 2020 Senior class’ “Swan Song” is a special one – the first ever New Year’s Six Bowl Game in Iowa State History, and a chance at tying the best record in school history!
Does Iowa State deserve a bid in the Fiesta Bowl? Damn right they do! Of the top-12 ranked teams in CFB playoffs, they are the only ones with no issues due to COVID, as they played EVERY game on their schedule, and I don’t know about you – but this 2020 Cyclone team passes the eye test.
They were every bit as good as Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game, and their 8-1 mark in the Big 12 regular season has to count for something. In other words, I don’t care that Indiana played Ohio State close, and Coastal Carolina went undefeated, Iowa State didn’t back into this game, they deserved it.
Now onto game week – Campbell was overjoyed in his press conference about the much shorter time off between regular season and bowl game – as previous 3 seasons it had been 27, 28, and 35 days (!) between contests.
Bring on the DUCKS!
When we last left off….
Iowa State battled back ferociously against a very talented and red-hot Oklahoma team in the B12 Championship, only to fall 30 yards short. The fact of the matter is, when you dig yourselves a 24-7 hole, and lose the turnover battle 0-3, you don’t deserve to win.
I was in the stands for the game, and was disgusted by the fan outrage over Campbell’s conservativism. Simply said folks = “Trust the Damn Process.”
Sure, Breece Hall looked pedestrian and Spencer Rattler fit balls into tight windows, but this team just kept grinding. I was uber-impressed by Jon Heacock’s magic in the second half, as the defense gave ISU a chance to win. And this game was not lost by Brock Purdy. We would have never gotten to where we were without him.
Let’s not dwell on the past, but look forward to the future – as Iowa State has an opportunity to cap off a special season in the Fiesta! Free PlayStation 5s for EVERYONE!
Talk about back-dooring into this Bowl Game! Washington and USC were slated to play in the Pac-12 Championship game, only for the Huskies to bow out due to COVID. That left Oregon to play an undefeated USC team, beat the Trojans, and eventually get slotted in the very favorable Conference bowl tie-in with the Fiesta Bowl. Now in case you were wondering, the Pac-12 decided not to play football until November (as ISU was on Game #7), so the Ducks only have SIX games under their belt.
They are 4-2, with two losses on the road to a 1-win Cal program and in-state rival Oregon State (also bad), and are young. In fact, they have the Youngest roster in the FBS, as 74% of their roster are either freshmen or sophomores. Oregon had the luxury of replacing NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year to-be Justin Herbert (QB) and all FIVE offensive linemen after they won the Rose Bowl in 2019, and ended the season ranked #5 in college football.
They are led by up-and-coming (and recently paid) Mario Cristobal. A former Miami (FL) offensive lineman, Cristobal is known as one of the best recruiters in the nation, corralling the Conference’s best classes in three successive years, including a top-6 ranked nationally class in 2021 thus far. He cut his teeth as an assistant at Alabama, and was promoted from within UO after running the offense for the Ducks. His ink is barely dry on an extension signed last week, worth $27.3M over the next 6 years.
The defense is full of speed, yet the offense is not as dynamic as it once was in the Chip Kelly days. The Ducks have a young quarterback at the helm, but plenty of financial backing from that company with a swoosh in its logo…
And oh yeah, they love crazy uniform combinations.
Believe it or not, this is the very first matchup pitting these two programs. In their younger years, Campbell as Toledo’s OC, and Cristobal as FIU’s head coach, these two coaches faced off in the 2010 Little Caesar’s Bowl (ranked as worst pizza on my list by the way), as Cristobal’s Florida International team brought home a Hot-N-Ready Pizza in a 34-32 win.
Iowa State Offense
This Cyclone offense will be mostly healthy on Saturday, as tight-end Dylan Soehner will play, and right tackle Joey Ramos will step right in for Jake Remsburg (who went out last game with injury). I worry a bit about the pass rush from Oregon, as they have one of the best edge rushers in Kayvon Thibodeaux, but rarely do we see exotic blitz packages from the Ducks. They run a 3-man front mixed in with a 4th rusher at OLB, but have been average at stopping the run.
That means look for a heavy dose of Breece Hall, as he looks to get back on track, and I expect another 100+ yard day out of the First-Team All-American. Breece is second in the nation in rush yards, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he beats out Najee Harris for the Doak Walker Award.
Expect our patented three tight-end look, especially to help chip on passing downs, and pave the way for the running game. Look for Charlie Kolar (who could be playing in his last game) to be called upon often, especially in the red zone. He just always seems to get open no matter who covers him.
Oregon has a ton of speed on defense, and play a bend-but-don’t break scheme, which plays right into the hands of Tom Manning’s system. I’m expecting another great day out of Xavier Hutchinson (whose run after the catch was other-worldly against OU), and a few more targets to go the way of Tarique Milton.
First Key To Victory – Run to Set up the Pass
This isn’t a knock on Brock Purdy, only a tip of the cap to Breece Hall. This offense runs through #28, and if he gets the rock moving early on 1st downs (which we didn’t do vs. OU), then ISU will move the chains effortlessly. A quarterback’s best friend is the running game, and Purdy can take full advantage with safeties up in the box (which I expect), and play-action passes. I expect a bounce back game from Purdy with high efficiency, and he will most definitely be called upon to run the ball on 3rd down situations.
I was blown away on tape by the team speed on Oregon’s defense, as they have a ton of 4- and 5-star talent, and have picked well from the American Samoa tree. They have shuffled some players around, and most recently implemented a dime package with more defensive backs on the field.
Their 3-man front is an anomaly, as the “Stud” or outside linebacker Mase Funa typically plays in a 2-point stance on the edge. He is questionable to play, but his backup, former defensive end Andrew Faoliu, can carry the torch. Oregon is in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12 in total defense, and can be run on – as both Stanford and UCLA torched them for 265+ yards each.
The best player on this roster is third-team All-American defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. The former 5-star wreaked havoc in the Pac-12 championship game, with (this is not a misprint) TWELVE quarterback pressures! He has a sack in each of his last three games, and will most definitely be a First-Round NFL draft pick come 2022.
Linebacker Noah Sewell was named Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, as he leads the team with 38 tackles, and is second in tackles-for-loss and sacks. He never leaves the field, as the dime package trades out the other linebacker and brings in another defensive back on passing downs.
The Duck’s secondary had themselves a coming out party against USC, setting the tone early with two quick interceptions, and this gem of a sideline grab to seal the victory.
They are led by 1st Team All-Pac 12 by cornerback Mykael Wright, one of EIGHT returning starters on this side of the ball. The defensive stats don’t tell the true story though, as Oregon gives up 8th most passing yards per game in conference, but are 4th in efficiency. They thrive on keeping the ball in front of them, and don’t get beat deep. And after a few missed tackles in the first four games, they have begun to clean up their act, and looked better in their last two.
The Verdict – ISU
A favorable matchup for our Cyclones, as UO’s game-plan plays right into the hands of ISU’s identity – running the ball and short- to intermediate-throws. If ISU can generate positive gains on early downs, then we will be in for a treat!
Iowa State Defense
This game will be won by the defense, and there is no one I am more confident in with in-game adjustments than coordinator Jon Heacock. Oregon’s quarterback only has 6 starts to his name, so expect a wide array of blitz packages to get in his head.
That means Will McDonald will look to continue his record-setting performance (9.5 sacks and counting on the year), and seniors Jaquan Bailey and Enyi Uwazurike going out in style. With Latrell Bankston leaving, I see Enyi playing more on the inside, as his efficiency has been superb in that spot.
Oregon has a tremendous amount of speed in the backfield, so it will be important to wrap up in the open field. Their running backs’ best threat is catching the ball, so Mike Rose will have to cover sideline to sideline. I can’t say enough about #23, as he plays the game with such amazing speed and control.
The secondary will see plenty of deep balls coming their way, and I’m confident they will be up for the task. I thought Datrone Young played one of his best in Cardinal and Gold versus OU, as he has emerged as a solid #2 corner opposite Anthony Johnson Island.
Second Key to Victory – Can’t Give up Big Plays
Easier said than done, but with the athletic prowess that Oregon possesses, the ISU safeties need to do their best at helping the cornerbacks on deep throws, and making good open field tackles.
The Cyclone safeties make this defense so lethal, as all three are so multiple in their talents. Look for a Greg Eisworth gem (in his last game), and for Isheem Young to get back on track after a horrible ejection call.
Gone are the 300+ rushing yard days and 50+ points, but this Oregon offense is still lethal. Coach Mario Cristobal preaches offensive line play like he cashes Nike checks, as he had coached an All-American OL for 7 consecutive seasons. This year would undoubtedly would have been 8, but eventual top-3 NFL pick Penei Sewell opted out of 2020.
Even with all of ONE start returning on the line, this unit has been solid, only giving up 10 sacks on the year. They pave the way for an efficient offense, ranking in the top half of the league in all categories, including 160 yards on the ground.
Back-to-back 1000-yard rusher CJ Verdell typically starts, but is doubtful to see the field on Saturday. That means scat-back Travis Dye will take over, and is the only Pac-12 player to have 300+ rushing yards and 200+ receiving yards. He has made his presence felt when on the field, averaging 7 yards per carry and a ridiculous 28 yards per reception!
Expect to see backups Sean Dollar, who had a coming-out party against USC (fast), and Cyrus Habibi-Likio (hammer), who has scored a rushing TD in 17 of his 31 games played. He will see the field in red-zone and short-yardage situations, as will backup quarterback Anthony Brown. The BC transfer played for the first time vs. USC, and was used well as an efficient runner.
Starting quarterback Tyler Shough is only a sophomore, and his lack of starts have shown on tape. His last two games have been below-average, but overall stats still display potential. He ranks 1st in Pac-12 in Quarterback Efficiency, and top-3 in yards and touchdowns, yet threw some very untimely interceptions in the last few stanzas. He has a strong arm, but not much wiggle on the move. He can run if he has to, but is not nearly as dynamic as most spread-option quarterbacks.
The receiver room has a smorgasbord of fast options, but we have yet to see a top option take form. Johnny Johnson III thrived with Justin Herbert at the helm (2019), but has yet to get in sync with Shough. The leading target is Jaylon Redd, who at 5-foot-9 is scary after the catch. And don’t forget about Devon Williams, who averages 20 yards per grab.
The tight ends have been utilized more lately, with two different options catching touchdowns against USC, and Hunter Kampmoyer (the most tight-end name ever) the best one of the bunch.
The Verdict – EVEN
I was tempted to give ISU the nod here, but with Cristobal’s prowess on offense, and former Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead calling the plays, this Oregon offense will give the Cyclones fits.
If there was one chink in Oregon’s Nike armor, it’s the kicking game, as field-goal specialist Camden Lewis missed 3 of his first 4 kicks, but Henry Katleman has been perfect since taking over the job. The Ducks had to replace one of their best punters ever in the offseason, and so far Tom Snee has been solid, averaging 43 yards per boot.
Third Key to Victory – Please No Special Teams Mistakes
As always, ISU struggles in this department, and we can not have any let-downs. Field position was a huge battle lost against Oklahoma, and the Cyclones can ill afford another bad punt from Joe Rivera or missed field goal from Connor Assalley. If there is any saving grace, its that UO kickers have only 5 touchbacks on the year. Kene Nwangwu enter here!
Believe it or not, Oregon partially blocked a punt last week, and has a solid kick return man in Mykael Wright (long of 41).
I’m holding my breath on kickoffs.
Verdict – Oregon
Buzz, your Girlfriend Woof!
Winning Scale from 1 to 10
I’m quite confident in this one, and as much as the Oklahoma loss stings, you know it only adds more fuel to the fire. Matt Campbell will have his boys ready to play, and on paper I love the matchup.
With that being said, on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being Boise, Idaho (worst place to play a Bowl Game), and 10 being Arizona (of course, sunny skies and no snow!), I give Iowa State a Texas chance at Victory!
Here’s a little stat for you – despite ISU’s overall bowl record of 4-11, they are 2-0 in games played in the state of Arizona.
With all the bright lights from national media on this New Year’s Six Bowl Game (and a lot at stake), it is just another game for this program. Matt Campbell talked from day one about filling an empty trophy case with hardware, and I am confident the Cyclones will do so.
Let’s Ring in 2021 with a BOWL WIN!
Iowa State 31
Let us know your thoughts and predictions in the comment section below!