DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson Fend Off Iowa State to Win 2021 Cheez-It Bowl

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVDecember 30, 2021

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 27: Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei #5 of the Clemson Tigers looks to pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The Clemson Tigers ended an otherwise disappointing season, at least by the program's own lofty standards, on a positive note.

Clemson beat Iowa State 20-13 on Wednesday night at the Cheez-It Bowl, ending its season by reaching the 10-win mark (10-3).

Iowa State, meanwhile, closed out the year at 7-6, a disappointment in its own right given that the program was ranked No. 7 to open the season.

This wasn't the prettiest game. The first half featured three field goals and one missed field goal, as both teams struggled to find an offensive rhythm or close out drives. It wasn't until Will Shipley's rushing touchdown with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter that either team reached paydirt.

Clemson Football @ClemsonFB

One sharp cut &amp; that's Ship in for six! <br><br>📺ESPN | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CheezItBowl?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CheezItBowl</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/willshipley2021?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@willshipley2021</a> <a href="https://t.co/CiyCvfRuqm">pic.twitter.com/CiyCvfRuqm</a>

Clemson's defense extended that lead on Iowa State's next offensive possession, as Mario Goodrich intercepted a batted pass and took it to the house.

Clemson Football @ClemsonFB

Nacho average INT! 🤯<br><br>📺ESPN | <a href="https://twitter.com/_MG3__?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@_MG3__</a> <a href="https://t.co/S9jUo7ETqJ">pic.twitter.com/S9jUo7ETqJ</a>

Iowa State had a chance to make things interesting after battling back in the fourth quarter, getting the ball back with just under two minutes remaining and down seven. But Clemson's defense held.

Some of the sloppiness in this game could be attributed to both teams missing players due either to injuries or COVID-19. Iowa State's best offensive player, running back Breece Hall (1,774 yards from scrimmage, 23 touchdowns), opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL draft.

Breece Hall @BreeceH

I promise ima be the biggest Cheerleader today😂🌪

Still, to put this game in perspective, it had an Iowa flea-flicker early in the fourth quarter that was intercepted, only for Clemson to fumble the ball back to Iowa State on the return. And none of it mattered because Clemson was flagged for roughing the passer.

Or how about Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy rushing for a first down on a fourth-down attempt with under a minute remaining, only to fumble the ball behind the line-to-gain and turning the ball over because of it?

The Cheez-It Bowl, ladies and gentlemen. Regardless, Clemson will take its win as it looks to return to national prominence in the 2022 season.

Key Stats

DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson: 21-of-32 for 187 yards and an interception

Will Shipley, Clemson: 18 carries for 61 yards and a score; five catches for 53 yards

Kobe Pace, Clemson: 12 rushes for 51 yards; four catches for 38 yards

Brock Purdy, ISU: 23-of-39 for 204 yards, a touchdown, interception and lost fumble

Jirehl Brock, ISU: 14 carries for 42 yards

Charlie Kolar, ISU: Four catches for 33 yards and a touchdown

Clemson's Defense Bailed Out Its Offense. Again.

Clemson's issues this season weren't on the defensive side of the ball. After all, coming into Wednesday the Tigers were giving up just 15 points per game, the second-best mark in this country, and just 308.4 yards per game (ninth).

This is still the team that opened the season by losing just 10-3 to Georgia, one of four teams left battling for a championship, after all. Even if new Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables is no longer the defensive coordinator, replaced by Wes Goodwin.

DeShawn Williams @iamDeShawnW

See we told y’all Wes would keep the defense right! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Clemson?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Clemson</a>

Will Vandervort @steelerwill

Clemson's defense has now allowed just 6 points off turnovers this year, both field goals. Clemson's offense has given up 21 points directly off turnovers | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Clemson?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Clemson</a>

So it wasn't a surprise that the Tigers defense was stingy Wednesday and scored a defensive touchdown, or only gave up a field goal after a Clemson turnover. As Clemson's offense struggled repeatedly to put Iowa State away despite multiple opportunities in the fourth quarter, the defense held firm.

Bill Connelly @ESPN_BillC

It's just so depressing watching the Clemson offense. I know how it got here, and there's no guarantee it stays here, but ... woof. "We don't trust anyone to do anything, so let's just try another draw play."

It was the story of Clemson's season, neatly packaged in one game. Had the offense showed up more consistently in big games, perhaps the Tigers wouldn't have been in the Cheez-It Bowl in the first place.

The Cyclones Really Missed Hall

Iowa State came into this game knowing it was going to be difficult to replace Hall's impact on the offense.

"Yeah, I think we have to find out," offensive coordinator Tom Manning told reporters about what the offense would look like in Hall's absence. "Certainly, we feel like we have options, but Jirehl [Brock] is a guy that's played a lot of football for us. Certainly, Breece has carried the football a lot more, as we all know. I think we have to get into the football game and see where we are at in terms of handing the football off and how much we can handle and make some decisions based on that."

The result wasn't pretty. Iowa State rushed for just 66 yards, and in turn the passing game suffered without the ground game as much of a threat.

Iowa State's defense kept things close in the first half before Clemson started to pull away in the third quarter. And the Tigers defense obviously deserves credit. But life after Hall got off to a rocky start for the Cyclones.