Dec 29, 2021

Iowa State and Clemson to Face Off In Highly Anticipated Cheez-It Bowl Matchup

By Andrew Johnson
Florida Citrus Sports

The weather in Orlando has been postcard-perfect and Wednesday night’s matchup at Camping World Stadium in Orlando looks just as enticing as Clemson and Iowa State square off in the 32nd annual Cheez-It Bowl.

The meeting will be the first between the Tigers (9-3) and Cyclones (7-5), and the stakes will be high when the teams kick off at 5:45 p.m. ET on ESPN.

After all, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s bunch is looking to wrap up its 11th consecutive 10-win season. Meanwhile, Matt Campbell’s Iowa State group hopes to continue its steady climb under his leadership, including a 39-24 mark over the past five years.

The Tigers suffered tough losses against No. 3 Georgia, No. 12 Pittsburgh and No. 18 N.C. State this fall and did not reach the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2014. Even so, the team has been upbeat and enthusiastic amid a busy week in Central Florida.

“We’ve won a lot of bowl games and playoff games, but we really haven’t treated this any different than the playoff experiences,” Swinney said Tuesday. “The cool thing for me, though, is we have a bunch of guys on the team that have never experienced a bowl because all the new people last year didn’t get a bowl (experience).”

This season marks Iowa State’s fifth straight bowl appearance under Campbell, who has led the Cyclones to some of the best seasons in school history. Since 2017, Iowa State’s 24 wins in Big 12 play are the second-most in the league during that span.

And while several bowl games this month have been canceled due to COVID-19 outbreaks within teams, Campbell said that the Cyclones did everything they could to keep themselves protected in the lead-up to the game.

“I know on our end, coming from Ames to Orlando, there was no chance we were going to pass the opportunity up,” Campbell said Tuesday.

Clemson will have to adjust on both ends of the ball after losing defensive coordinator Brent Venables (Oklahoma) and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott (Virginia) to head coaching jobs earlier this month. Brandon Streeter took over as offensive coordinator after the departures, while Wes Goodwin was named defensive coordinator alongside co-defensive coordinator Mickey Conn.

The nation’s second-best scoring defense (15.0 points per game) will aim to slow the Iowa State run game and slow Iowa State senior quarterback Brock Purdy with a strong performance from the Tigers’ D-line. Purdy has completed 73.1 percent (269 of 368) of his passes for 2,984 and 18 touchdowns this year.

“We have been doing this together for a long time,” Conn said of his relationship with Goodwin, formerly a defensive analyst. “And when you look at our staff, we lost Coach [Venables], that’s a big piece to lose, but Wes has been right there with him the whole time, his right-hand man.”

Across the field, Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning will look to replace the production of star running back Breece Hall, who announced his decision to enter the NFL Draft before the team’s Cheez-It Bowl trip. Hall totaled 3,931 career rushing yards and 24 touchdowns, including almost 1,500 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in 2021. Jirehl Brock will start in Hall’s place in the bowl game.

“Everybody in the running backs room kind of has a different way of running the ball,” Brock said Monday at Cheez-It Bowl Day for Kids. “You know, Breece is very elusive and very strong, and I feel like I’m more kind of just a strong back.

“I can get I can get out and use my speed as well,” Brock continued, “but I feel like I run my best whenever I put my shoulders down and put my head down and just run forward.”

Defensively, the Cyclones rank 10th in the nation in total defense (310.3), while allowing just 20.6 points per game. Two-time defending Big 12 sacks leader Will McDonald IV (11.5 sacks in 2021) and the highly talented Iowa State secondary will be critical to limiting a Clemson team that is clicking after winning seven of eight games to finish the regular season. That run included a 30-0 rout of rival South Carolina to close the regular season on Nov. 27.

Despite suffering a knee sprain on Nov. 6 at Louisville, sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei confirmed that he feels good enough to start and expects to play this week. Uiagalelei finished the regular season with 2,059 passing yards with nine touchdowns.

Swinney announced that star wide receiver Justyn Ross and senior linebacker Baylon Spector would not play. Joseph Ngata, second on the team in receiving yards, remains questionable. However, Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry said the team has developed a culture different from other programs when with respect to opting out.

“I think other places don’t have what we have, and if a guy had opted out, nobody would be mad,” Henry said. “But at the same time, I think you do cherish the guys who’ve decided, ‘All right, I’m going to stick it out — one more game for the Tigers and let’s end on a good note.”

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