Iowa State caps historic season with 34-17 romp over Oregon in Fiesta Bowl
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The season was about work and determination.
As Iowa State moved its way through the pandemic, the Cyclones had to endure sacrifice, hardship and, yes, failure as they put together a season that is unrivaled in program history.
At the end of it, though, the Cyclones reached the Fiesta Bowl, which proved to be a party to celebrate all that had been achieved.
No. 12 Iowa State won its first appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl, defeating Oregon 34-17 at State Farm Stadium to put the finishing touches on the best season the school has seen.
Their 9-3 record matches the program-best for wins in a season while giving the Cyclones their most significant bowl win.
Iowa State simply wore down the Ducks (4-3), whose season did not start until November due to the Pac-12’s late decision to begin its season after COVID-19 concerns. The Cyclones dominated play as the day continued, racking up time of possession and an ever-increasing gap on the scoreboard.
Here’s what we learned about Iowa State in its final game of the season:
Fiesta Bowl champions has a nice ring to it
As important as it was for Iowa State to make its first conference championship game, second-place finishes don’t really get celebrated. As nice as it is to beat Oklahoma and Texas in the same season for the first time, there’s no trophy for it.
As much as Iowa State accomplished this season, there wasn’t that one moment to define the season.
The term “Fiesta Bowl champions” changes that.
This Cyclone season can now be celebrated without convoluted tags like “finishing the regular season in first place.” It can be venerated not as the year of accomplishing much but ultimately landing short of the bigger goals, but as the season the Cyclones won a New Year’s Six bowl.
The Cyclones have completed the best season in school history not simply by ending some ugly historic streaks, but by proving themselves deserving of being considered one of the best football teams in the country.
This team wasn’t just good by “Iowa State standards,” but by just about anyone’s.
Defense finds its footing
It looked as though Jon Heacock’s defense was going to be in for a long day after Oregon shredded it in the early going, but that proved to be unsustainable for the Ducks.
Oregon’s first-half touchdowns (on drives sandwiched around a fumble) covered a combined 171 yards in just 6 minutes, 31 seconds, but in the ensuing seven drives, the Ducks managed just 135 yards.
It was yet another example of Iowa State’s defense getting better as a game goes on, a theme under Heacock not just this season but the last handful.
Oregon shuffled quarterbacks as it tried to find some antidote to the Cyclones’ defense, but never found any rhythm or success.
In total, Iowa State’s defense held Oregon to 312 total yards while forcing three turnovers and pitching a second-half shutout.
What started as a debacle quickly became a clinic for the Cyclones’ defense.
A picture of production
There were few fireworks offensively for Iowa State, but the Cyclones got efficiency and production from their playmakers.
Quarterback Brock Purdy was 20 of 29 for 156 yards and a touchdown while All-American running back Breece Hall had 136 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries.
Eight Cyclones caught passes from Purdy, and the offense did not commit a turnover.
The special teams is finally a plus
Iowa State’s special teams play has been the object of much frustration this season, with issues in the kicking and return games plaguing the Cyclones — and costing them games — time and again.
Against the Ducks, though, special teams was instrumental in the victory.
Iowa State scored 10 points off big special teams wins, recovering a pooch kickoff and a muffed punt.
Iowa State’s big play in the kick coverage game was something of a byproduct of its struggles there throughout the season.
The Cyclones don’t have a kicker who has proven he can consistently kick touchbacks and the coverage team has had numerous high-profile blunders, so Iowa State turned to Drake Nettles to make pop-up kicks that cede more ground but lessen the likelihood of a return.
Oregon, apparently, wasn’t prepared for the one Nettles delivered in the second quarter as it went unfielded and then was recovered by Iowa State’ Rory Walling.
Three plays later Hall scored a touchdown to put the Cyclones up 14.
Iowa State netted a field goal in the third quarter when two Oregon players collided while trying to receive a Joe Rivera punt. The Cyclones recovered and later added three points.
Follow Travis Hines on Twitter @TravisHines21