Once feelings of doubt after losing the season opener, Iowa State turned everything around to have one of the most historic football seasons in school history.
The Cyclones responded from that loss by winning eight of their next nine games, all of which were conference games, for Iowa State’s first ever eight-win conference record.
All of this led up to Iowa State’s first chance to claim a Big 12 Championship, but ultimately fell short by losing to an Oklahoma Sooners team that the Cyclones had beaten earlier in the season.
Mistakes, mistakes and more mistakes
Despite the Sooners being the only other team standing in the way of Iowa State and its first ever Big 12 Championship, it was the Cyclones that doomed themselves over the course of the game.
From the get-go, the opening kickoff sailed out of bounds, already putting Oklahoma in favorable field position to start the game, but just a few plays into the game, Iowa State defensive back and Big 12 Defensive Co-Freshman of the Year Isheem Young was called for targeting and was disqualified from the game.
But the mistakes didn’t end there.
“Obviously we have that belief, that’s why we keep fighting, but it just wasn’t enough at the end,” said Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar.
Iowa State’s special teams let up two separate kick returns, one right before halftime and one at the end of the game, that put the Sooners in good position to put up points. Tre Brown's kick return before halftime led the Sooners to score a touchdown with almost no time left on the clock and the kick return at the end of the game led to the Gabe Brkic field goal that put Oklahoma up by six points.
Another big issue Iowa State faced were three Brock Purdy interceptions that all led to any Cyclone momentum to be killed, one of which was the game-sealing interception for the Sooners.
One of the things that led to Brock’s third and final interception was a pair of false starts calls that pushed the Cyclones from having 2nd and 10 opportunities on the Oklahoma 33 yard line to a much less manageable 2nd and 20 on the Oklahoma 43 yard line.
“Obviously those penalties hurt,” said Head Coach Matt Campbell. “[Oklahoma] have great edge rushers and I think it pulled a couple of those guys offsides.”
Even earlier on in the game, senior linebacker Jake Hummel cut off one of Spencer Rattler’s passes and it seemed like the needed takeaway for the Cyclone defense, but Hummel bobbled the interception and Oklahoma receiver Marvin Mims snagged the ball for a big pickup. The following play was a 45 yard touchdown from Rattler to Mims.
Sooners' defensive line was a difference maker
One of Oklahoma’s key pieces missing from the first battle between Iowa State and Oklahoma State was defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins.
Perkins, who only played in four regular season games, put up good enough numbers to earn a spot on the All-Big 12 Second Team, alongside fellow defensive linemen Isaiah Thomas and Perrion Winfrey and defensive back Tre Brown, all of which proved to be a constant thorn in the side of the Cyclone offense.
“[Oklahoma] have played outstanding on defense really for the majority of the year,” Campbell said. “Hats off to Coach [Alex] Grinch and certainly Oklahoma.”
What difference did Perkins and the Oklahoma defensive line make? Well Perkins alone recorded 1.5 sacks, which doubled down his 1.5 tackles for loss on the day. Isaiah Thomas also added an additional sack for the defensive line, to go with the 1.5 sacks recorded by the Oklahoma linebacking core of Nik Bonitto and Brian Asamoah.
Purdy and sophomore running back Breece Hall felt the effects of Oklahoma’s defensive line all game.
Despite turning a two-touchdown performance, Breece Hall was held to his lowest rushing yardage total of the season, with only 52 yards in the first half and 27 yards in the second half for 79 total rushing yards.
Purdy also felt the pressure from Oklahoma’s defense all game, with the junior quarterback getting sacked three times and getting hurried six times.
“You can say what you want about the three picks, but he keeps fighting until the last second,” Kolar said. “I’m not going to stand up here for any Brock slander.
“I’d go to war with him any day of the week, any day of the year.”
Right after the ball was snapped on the play resulting in a game-sealing interception for Oklahoma, Purdy faced heavy pressure right away from linebacker DeShaun White with Perkins and Bonitto following close behind.
That heavy pressure that Purdy had faced all night ended up forcing him to throw a bad ball on third and long, which ended up in the hands of Tre Brown.
INTERCEPTED 😱Brock Purdy gets picked off and Oklahoma wins the Big 12 Championship 🏆 pic.twitter.com/JJhjQfuwV8— ESPN (@espn) December 19, 2020
History was made regardless
For Iowa State fans, a 27-21 loss in the Big 12 Championship game may not be exactly how they would’ve wanted things to end.
But regardless of the game outcome, Iowa State history was made after a historic regular season performance itself that provided Iowa State and its fans with new hope for the future.
“I don’t know if I could be prouder of what these young men have done and what they’ve accomplished,” Campbell said.
Even if the Cyclones didn’t break the 108 year championship dry streak, the fact that Iowa State made it to its first ever Big 12 Championship appearance, not only under Campbell, but in general will pave the way for the future of Iowa State football.
The Cyclones will return several key pieces from the Big 12 Championship contending team, including sophomore running back and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Breece Hall, as well as Big 12 Defensive Co-Freshman of the Year Isheem Young.
With core players sticking with Iowa State, whether it be for one more season or three more seasons, the Cyclones have shown that they have what it takes to become one of the Big 12’s championship contenders year in and year out.
Not only that, but the Cyclones still managed to focus on a silver living despite a dark, gloomy cloud floating above it following the loss to Oklahoma.
“The fight our team has inside of them is something great to look at and I know it’s great to watch,” Hutchinson said. “One of our mottos is ‘never die easy’ and I think you guys kind of saw that today and I’m glad that the world kind of got to see it today too, that no matter what predicament we’re in, we’re never going to die easy in a football game, because we can always make a comeback and today, we just fell a little bit short.”