Mario Cristobal says QB carousel in Fiesta Bowl was 'riding the hot hand'

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Dylan Mickanen
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Mario Cristobal says QB carousel in Fiesta Bowl was 'riding the hot hand' originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest

As the old saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. 

That was certainly the case for the No. 25 Oregon Ducks (4-3, 4-2) in Saturday's loss to No. 10 Iowa State (9-3, 7-2) in the 2021 Playstation Fiesta Bowl, where the Ducks interchanged between Tyler Shough and Anthony Brown.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent]

Heading into the Fiesta Bowl, Oregon planned to play both quarterbacks with Shough playing most of the snaps and Brown coming in for "short-yardage and some four-minute stuff," as explained by Mario Cristobal.

"There was enough clarity to start Tyler, which is what we did, but there was also enough... good play by Anthony to where we felt it merited him playing and that's what we did," said Cristobal. 

However, after Oregon's second offensive possession ended with a Travis Dye fumble, Oregon's staff made the call to play Brown full-time the next possession which paid off with a 98-yard, game-tying touchdown drive. 

"We did determine that we were going to put him in, in the second quarter to play," said Cristobal. "He developed the hot hand so we stayed with the hot hand. That was what transpired, nothing else."

Shough was 3-3 for 41 yards when benched for Brown, who came in and also seemed to move the ball at-will in the first. If not for a holding penalty late in the first half, Brown would have led back-to-back scoring drives as the full-time quarterback. 

"In the second half, we went with Anthony because we felt he had the hot hand and that Tyler was going to go back and play as well... Short-yardage packages were still Anthony's to play with," Cristobal explained. 

"We did what we thought gave us the best chance to win."

Brown started the second half, but Cristobal said he still planned to play both quarterbacks after halftime, too.

 "When Anthony went in, he was doing well, so we went with him and that was the extent of the decision process. Later in the game, we felt we were going to get them back in, get Tyler back in so he can play some more and we did at one point in time," said Cristobal.

"That was the quarterback rotation that was decided upon."

Brown's hot hand did not last as Oregon's offense stunted in the second half and failed to score a point. It was the second time Oregon did not score a point after halftime this season. 

With Brown no longer moving the chains, Oregon re-entered Shough, who handed the ball off twice before being subbed off on 3rd-and-short. Brown ran for a first down, but then fumbled the ball away. 

"Tyler, the one series where he got the handoffs and didn't get to throw it, it's not in any way, shape, or form a way to judge him or what he did or what he didn't do," said Oregon's head coach. 

The next time Oregon got the ball, Shough re-entered the game as the starter before being subbed out again on 3rd-and-1. Brown handed the ball off to Cyrus Habibi-Likio who failed to convert and Oregon punted, again. 

In Oregon's final offensive possession, Shough threw an interception to a floating linebacker on fourth down. He finished 7-9 for 79 yards with one interception and four carries for eight yards. 

All in all, Cristobal seemed impressed by Shough during his post-game conference. 

"I thought he had some good moments," said Cristobal. "Looking at him statistically, seven for nine, 79 yards, a long of 20. Had the one pick at the end when trying to make something happen. I thought he did some good stuff."

However, it's clear the coaching staff does not trust Tyler Shough as the offense opened up and took more downfield shots with Brown under center. Contrast that to the Pac-12 Championship when the Ducks ran the ball on multiple third-and-long situations, basically forfeiting any chance to move the chains. 

"I thought Anthony did some good stuff as well," explained Cristobal. "We played both of them because we felt they both gave us a chance to win the game."

Now, what's next? Cristobal mentioned the quarterback situation heading into 2021 as being open with no clear-cut starter. 

"After a game like this, with all of the things going on with the seniors and the team and the things we have to attend to, we'll sit down and evaluate everything," he said. 

"But Tyler came in this year as a starter, and he started this game as well. He did a lot of good things out there. We have tremendous confidence in him, and we're excited about Anthony as well.

"So a lot of different situations. Talk about them, try to settle them now, there's no shot at doing that, not even close. You have a guy who's a sophomore and a guy who's a senior. You have guys that are granted extra years. There's a lot of moving parts to this thing as well. We have good players on campus and we have an elite quarterback coming in; probably on campus right now. There's a lot of moving parts to this, but we feel confident in the quarterback room."