Notebook: Hall and the Cyclones look to navigate a solid Oregon defense

Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy gets forced out of bounds by Oklahoma defenders during the 2020 Dr. Pepper Big 12 Football Championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Dec 19, 2020.

Zane Douglas

A loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game left Iowa State’s fate for a bowl game up in the air, but after the dust settled, the Cyclones were put in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, matched up against the Pac-12 Champion Oregon Ducks.

The game, which will take place at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, is one of the most prestigious bowls of the year and the Cyclones got in it with an at-large bid resume that was deemed better than Indiana’s and Coastal Carolina’s — the two teams right below them in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.

The media spoke with offensive players from Iowa State and defensive players from Oregon on Tuesday to gauge how each side is feeling about the upcoming matchup.

Breaking new ground

The Ducks and Cyclones have been solid teams within their own conferences this season, only losing two games each with all four of those combined games being one-possession games.

The Pac-12 didn’t venture outside its conference and played a shortened season, while the Big 12 played a full-length year with one game against a separate conference.

Iowa State lost that game to Louisiana, but gauging where Iowa State and Oregon stack up would be a difficult task considering the lack of variation in schedules.

Another factor that will be in play for the two teams is the wide historic discrepancy, which heavily favors Oregon.

Oregon has been a fairly prestigious team in college football for a while, and this year was supposed to be no different.

Two losses to lower level Pac-12 teams left the Ducks in danger of not making it far in the bowl season and the conference as a whole.

Washington wasn’t able to play in the conference championship, however, so Oregon took its place and upset USC 31-24.

Iowa State’s historic path and current season path were way different.

The Cyclones have never been all that good, besides the last couple of years with Head Coach Matt Campbell bringing Iowa State to prominence, but this season, the Cyclones were the team that was upset in the conference championship.

“Going into this game, yeah, we’re playing a great team in Oregon, but at the same time, we’re gonna focus on what we’ve done all year, and that’s playing together,” Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy said. “… We’re trying to do something for the first time in school history here. This is honestly the best bowl game we’ve ever been to in school history, but I feel like we do have what it takes to take the next step.”

Despite everything, two vastly different programs have a chance to win an important bowl game.

“Hall” of fame

Iowa State running back Breece Hall’s 2020 season has seen him rocket his way up the running back ranking in the country and Heisman Trophy watch lists.

The Cyclone tailback finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting but grabbed an Associated Press All-American first team selection alongside Alabama’s Najee Harris.

“I think we always knew Breece had really special talent,” Campbell said. “I think, probably his ability to take his talent and take the expectation [and] standard of how we practice and how we go about our business and kind of reaching his full potential really came midway through his freshman year a year ago at West Virginia.”

The Wichita, Kansas, native has enjoyed success during one of Iowa State’s most successful seasons ever. Despite this, Hall is coming off his three worst games of the year.

The first eight games of the year saw Hall get at least one touchdown and at least 100 yards in every single game, and besides the first game against Louisiana where Hall had only 106 yards and a touchdown, Hall made that streak look easy.

Hall’s touchdown streak has continued, but in all of his last three games, Hall couldn’t hit 100 yards of rushing despite ample opportunity.

Averaging 89 yards per game is an excellent clip still for the sophomore, so the fact that 89 yards per game and over a touchdown per contest is his worst three-game stretch of the year shows how dominant he’s been for Iowa State.

Hall may need to dial it back up against the Ducks on Saturday.

Thibodeaux leads a dynamic Oregon defense

Playing someone out of the Big 12 could prove to be challenging for Iowa State, and on the offensive side of the ball, the Cyclones will be facing a defensive unit that could prove to be challenging.

Led by defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Ducks are one of the better defensive teams in the country. It’s a level of defense the Cyclones have mostly avoided in the Big 12.

Thibodeaux had 3.5 sacks in just six games this year, to go along with 7.5 tackles for loss, 32 tackles and three passes defended.

“I wish we didn’t play against him, but he’s really fun to watch play as well,” Iowa State Offensive Coordinator Tom Manning said.

In a regular season in 2019, Thibodeaux dominated in his first full year with Oregon, piling up nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 13 games.

The Ducks haven’t forced a ton of turnovers with only seven, but Oregon’s defense has kept it in some games, and a win over the undefeated USC Trojans while only allowing 24 points showed that one center stage.

Iowa State’s matchup with Oklahoma stopped an offensive hot streak for Manning’s offensive group, but the Cyclones will need to find that again as Oregon’s defense presents a new challenge.

For Hall and the offense, a big emphasis will be on stopping Thibodeaux.

“He’s probably the best D-end in college football,” Hall said. “He’s gonna demand a lot of attention.”