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2021 Iowa State Football Game Preview: Iowa State vs Clemson

One final game of the 2021 season

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

2021 Cheez-it Bowl


7-5 overall (5-4 Big 12)



9-3 overall (6-2 ACC)

Date: Dec. 29, 2021

Place: Orlando, Fla. - Camping World Stadium

Time: 4:45 p.m. CT


Talent: Dave Pasch (pxp), Dusty Dvoracek (analyst), Tom Luginbill (sideline)

When we last left off...

Iowa State took down TCU 48-14 on senior day. It was an emotional day as some of the greatest Cyclones like Brock Purdy, Charlie Kolar, Mike Rose, and Breece Hall played their final game at Jack Trice Stadium. Breece Hall finished with a career-high 237 yards, 4 touchdowns, and the NCAA record for most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown. Brock Purdy also finished his career going an incredible 16-1 against Big 12 opponents in Jack Trice Stadium. Crazy stuff to look back on.

Clemson Tidbits

Clemson is looking to close out its 10th straight 10 win season. The Tigers started the season 2-2 and closed out the year playing some of their best football going 7-1 in their final 8 games. Clemson will also have some new faces at the coordinator positions. Following the departures of Offensive Coordinator Tony Elliott and Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables for head coaching jobs at Virginia and Oklahoma. The Cheez-it Bowl will represent the coordinator debuts of Streeter (offensive coordinator), Wes Goodwin (defensive coordinator), and Mickey Conn (co-defensive coordinator).

Clemson has posted a 10-7 bowl record under Head Coach Dabo Swinney, including a 9-4 mark in its last 13 bowl games dating back to the 2012 season.

The Series

This is the first-ever meeting between Iowa State and Clemson. Iowa State will be the 107th different opponent faced by Clemson all-time. Clemson holds a 64-38-4 all-time record when facing an opponent for the first time.

Iowa State Offense

The Cyclones will have a huge hole to fill offensively. Iowa State star running back Breece Hall declared for the NFL draft on December 18th and will not play in the Cheez-It Bowl. His absence means the Cyclones will be missing 50% of their touchdowns scored this season when they take the field in Orlando. In his place will be Jirehl Brock, a redshirt sophomore that was actually the higher-rated running back coming out of high school between the two. Brock has waited for his moment behind Breece Hall and will certainly look to capitalize on the opportunity.

The Iowa State offense has certainly struggled at times this season getting the run game going. Even with one of the most talented running backs in the country, Iowa State had their moments where there was no room to run against stout defensive fronts which is exactly what Clemson will bring to the Cheez-It Bowl.

First Key to Victory - Win Up Front

While Iowa State sits 10th nationally in yards per rush, it hasn’t come easy. The Cyclones have found themselves being pushed around on the offensive line at times, making it harder for the running backs to find space. Clemson is one of the nation’s best in stopping the run and they do it quite often. Iowa State will not only have to be creative in their run scheme, but the utilization of different formations and extra blockers will be key.

Not only does Iowa State need to win upfront in run blocking they will need to protect and give Brock Purdy enough time to allow him to find receivers. I think Iowa State’s best chance to score on this Clemson defense is using the Brock Purdy to Charlie Kolar connection and creating mismatches on the Clemson linebackers. This also is very bold to consider as Clemson’s defense is one of the top units against the pass. But when you have an All-American tight end, use him.

Clemson Defense

As I mentioned before, Clemson’s defense is outstanding. They are top ten against both the run and pass. Let’s take a look at the stats, shall we? Clemson ranks 5th nationally in yards given up per play at 4.3 yards. That should be fun. The Tigers are 7th nationally in rushing yards allowed per play at 2.9 yards and 100 yards total per game. That sounds like even more fun. Oh, not to mention they are 9th nationally in yards per pass allowed at 6.1 yards, and they sack you 9.35% of the time which is 13th best in the country.

Second Key to Victory - Slow The Rush

If in fact Iowa State is unable to run the ball and Iowa State has to throw to win, the Cyclones will have to slow down the Clemson pass rush. The Tigers are the fourth-best team in the country at getting to the quarterback with just over 3 sacks per game. This will have to be the best pass protection that Iowa State has had all season to keep Brock Purdy upright.

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

The vaunted Clemson pass rush is formed by some young players up front and the one that stands out the most is sophomore Myles Murphy. The star defensive end has seven sacks on the season and also has shown the ability to disrupt passes by knocking them down at the line. This will be a tough task for both Cyclones tackles to keep him from gaining steam.

The linebacker duo for Clemson is phenomenal as well. Senior leader James Skalski and sophomore Trenton Simpson lead the charge for the Tigers at the second level. Their ability to match up with Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen may very well end up deciding this game. Will be a fun matchup to watch all day.

The Verdict - Clemson

Iowa State can score points, but their ability to score points on teams that shut down the run is worrisome. We have seen it a few times this season. Clemson gives up nothing upfront and it’s going to be a tough day to score a lot of points. The key for Iowa State offensively is to do enough while not making major mistakes. Clemson still has the better unit of the two here.

Iowa State Defense

Isheem Young and others have left the program and now Iowa State has a few holes in it’s secondary. Beau Freyler will be making his first collegiate start after earning All-Big 12 Honorable Mention playing more and more snaps as the season went on. The coaching staff is excited for Freyler, but this will be a test for him in extended playing time. His ability to help in the run game will be the most needed tomorrow.

Third Key To Victory - Keep Clemson One Dimensional

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson has had their struggles this season passing the ball and Iowa State is pretty good at stopping the run. The Tigers rank near the bottom of the FBS when it comes to passing the ball, which is why if Iowa State can stop the run and force D.J. Uiagalelei to win the game, the Cyclones have a solid shot at winning this game. The Tigers are currently down a few wide receivers and it could be prime pickings for the Cyclones.

Clemson Offense

As mentioned before, Clemson has been on the struggle bus this season on offense. Though they are young on that side of the ball and still very talented, D.J. Uiagalelei has only thrown 9 touchdowns and completed 54% of his passes. In time covering for Trevor Lawrence last season, he threw 5 touchdowns and completed 66% of his passes, a much better mark.

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

Clemson has been able to find a bit of success on the ground. They are near the middle of the pack if your rank rushing attacks across the country but at 4.5 yards per rush they have been effective enough to help the Tigers win nine games. The rushing attack is led by freshman Will Shipley who rank for 678 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.

The Clemson wide receiver room is thin. Justyn Ross, the leading receiver for Clemson, will miss the game due to surgery. E.J. Williams is in COVID-19 protocol and Frank Ladson and Ajou Ajou entered the transfer portal a week after the regular season ended. Tough sledding for an offense already struggling to pass the ball.

The Verdict - Iowa State

The Cyclones will have to keep Clemson at bay as much as they can. They can’t allow the stupid mistakes to pop up again and allow the Tigers to do what they haven’t been able to do all season.

Special Teams

This feels like a game where special teams may be important. Iowa State was improved in this department towards the end of the season but they can’t afford a mistake now. Especially when both defenses will be controlling this one. Field position will be huge, whether it is flipping it or not giving it up.

The Verdict - Even

Special teams are dumb anyways.

Winning Scale from 1 to 10

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a Tiger and 10 being a Gamecock. I give this one a Tar Heels chance for Iowa State.

Final Analysis

This is going to be a defensive battle. Iowa State has the better offense of the two teams and their defense is good enough to keep the Clemson offense at bay. What worries me is the ability of Iowa State to sustain drives and put up points against the best defense that they have faced all season. Another key component to the game will be the field position battle. If Clemson is winning in that area, Iowa State may have a rough day. I hope to be wrong but I see the Tiger defense controlling this game. It will be close because of both defenses, but I don’t feel good about the outcome.

Final Score

Clemson - 17

Iowa State - 14

Let us know your predictions in the comments below!