Game blog: Observations after Clemson’s hold-your-breath win vs. Iowa State

Preparing for a month for a bowl game usually produces one of two results for a college football team:

It shows up rested and sharp.

It shows up rested and rusty.

Perhaps the biggest postseason challenge for a college football program is navigating those weeks between the regular season and the postseason successfully. Getting in enough – and the right kind of – practice but not too much. Getting players healthy and keeping the rest there. Maintaining focus through semester exams and holiday trips home. Putting a positive finishing touch on the current season while also beginning to prepare for the next.

Teams have had even more hurdles to clear this month. The transfer portal has changed rosters; so have opt-outs by NFL hopefuls. And, with little or no warning, COVID has sidelined players, teams and bowls.

No. 19 Clemson (9-3) and Iowa State (7-5) meet at 5:45 p.m. (ESPN) in the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando, Florida. A win would be Clemson’s sixth in a row, extend its streak of 10-win seasons to 11 and give coach Dabo Swinney his 150th win while giving his new coordinators their first in those roles.

9:22 p.m. | Behind defense, Clemson football hangs on to win Cheez-It Bowl Champions against Iowa State

Clemson wins the Cheez-It Bowl 20-13 against Iowa State, and not for the first time, it can thank its defense.

After the Cyclones quickly turned a 17-point deficit into a one-possession, they had two more chances to tie or win the game. The Tigers’ defense made sure the narrow lead stand.

Iowa State got the ball at its 3 with 6:55 remaining but had to punt after six plays for a net eight yards.

Clemson ran three times and punted back, leaving the Cyclones with 89 yards and 112 seconds to catch the Tigers.

Quarterback Brock Purdy moved the ball to the ISU 36 and on a fourth-and-two appeared to have run for a first down.

But Mario Goodrich, who’s third-quarter interception for a touchdown proved to be the winning points, made another big play. He hit Purdy and punched the ball loose. Purdy recovered, but behind the line of scrimmage. The ball turned over to Clemson, which ran out the remaining 33 seconds.
8:59 p.m. | Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. sidelined by controversial hit by Iowa State player

Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr., a projected first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, was sidelined by a controversial hit by an Iowa State player. No penalty was called. Here’s the story:

Cheez-It Bowl: Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. shaken up on controversial play by Iowa State
8:43 p.m. | Clemson clinging to lead against Iowa State in Cheez-It Bowl

Iowa State is back in it.

Buoyed by an interception and a bizarre multi-turnover play negated by a Clemson penalty, the Cyclones drove 53 yards on eight plays for a 6-yard touchdown pass from Brock Purdy to wide-open tight end Charlie Kolar to cut their deficit to seven points.

Kolar gave a head-fake that shook off Clemson’s Barrett Carter, who had been penalized for roughing-the-passer penalty that helped Iowa State keep the ball with good field position.

No. 19 Clemson 20, Iowa State 13, 9:42 fourth quarter
8:28 p.m. | Clemson turnover gives Iowa State new life in Cheez-It Bowl

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has thrown nine interceptions in the regular season, and his 10th gave Iowa State new life late in the third quarter.

After the Tigers scored twice in 51 seconds to build a 17-point lead, the defense stopped the Cyclones on three plays.

But on the next play from scrimmage, Uiagalelei tried to throw right while rolling left, and his pass was batted at the line and intercepted at the Tigers’ 28.

Clemson’s defense limited the damage, holding Iowa State to no yards and forcing the Cyclones to accept a 45-yard field goal.

But a three-score lead is now a two-score lead.

No. 19 Clemson 20, Iowa State 6, 1:23 third quarter.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney congratulates cornerback Mario Goodrich after he returned an interception for a touchdown in the Cheez-It Bowl.
8:14 p.m. | Clemson may have applied the knockout punch against Iowa State in third quarter of Cheez-It Bowl

With perhaps the most bizarre play of its 2021 season, Clemson has taken control of its Cheez-It Bowl game against Iowa State.

After the Tigers scored the game’s first touchdown to take a 13-3 lead, the defense quickly padded it.

On a second-and-five play, Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy attempted a pass. Clemson defensive end Justin Mascoll batted it up into the air, and Purdy attempted to bat it down.

Instead, he batted it to cornerback Mario Goodrich, who returned it 18 yards for a touchdown.

No. 19 Clemson 20, Iowa State 3, 4:01 third quarter.
Clemson running back Will Shipley (1) scores a touchdown during the third quarter of the 2021 Cheez-It Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida Wednesday, December 29, 2021.
8:08 p.m.| Clemson wins start of the second half against Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl

Teams talk about the importance of the first series of the second half. Clemson won both.

The Tigers defense stopped Iowa State’s first series after one first down, helped by a holding penalty against the Cyclones but also defending consecutive passes to force a punt.

Clemson’s offense took over at its 21, churning for yards rather than exploding and getting an athletic reception by Beaux Collins that was reminiscent of recent Tigers greats Mike Williams, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. Trying to shake the grasp a Cyclones defender, D.J. Uiagalelei threw a wobbly, arching pass toward Collins, who leapt and fought off two defenders for an 11-yard gain on a third-and-four.

From there, Clemson kept the ball another nine plays, including a fourth-and-one run by Uiagalelei and scoring on a 12-yard run by Will Shipley, who broke off a run up the middle to the right side and went untouched into the end zone.

Much like the lengthy offensive possession to start the first half, this one consumed a lot of clock: 16 plays, 79 yards and 7 minutes, 39 seconds.

No. 19 Clemson 13, Iowa State 3, 4:54 third quarter.
7:26 p.m.| Two ways to look at Clemson’s first half against Iowa State in Cheez-It Bowl

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? That likely will determine how you view Clemson’s first half of the Cheez-It Bowl.

The Tigers lead Iowa State 6-3. They have 13 first downs compared to seven for Iowa State and have outgained the Cyclones 212-153.

But the Tigers have only two field goals and have struggled once the field grows shorter.

So, do you look at the second half and say, “We haven’t played that well but have the lead?” Or is it “We have the lead at the half, but if we don’t play better in the second half, we’re in trouble?

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