WHAT WE ARE HEARING: BOWL PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.19 CLEMSON vs. IOWA STATE
- 2021-12-29 18:01:03
Welcome to the bowl edition of What We Are Hearing!
It’s been a frustrating, injury-riddled, roller coaster of a season for the Tigers, but as I predicted after the 2-2 start, the Tigers still have a chance to extend their 10-win season streak to an 11th year if they can beat the 7-5 Iowa State Cyclones. It’s truly remarkable that the Tigers could finish 10-3 and just a few plays away from being undefeated despite playing 4 top-20 teams, including 3 away from home and the No.1 team! Just about any other team would be 2-10 with the unprecedented number of injuries the Tigers have suffered this season and the schedule they have played. It’s unfortunate that the schedule was front-loaded because if it had been reversed, there is a good chance the Tigers would be undefeated. They would at least likely be 12-1 and headed to another playoff! Coulds and ifs aside, Dabo and the Tigers have overcome all of the adversity to win 7 of their last 8 games, including blowout wins over No.10 Wake and South Carolina, in order to put themselves in a position to finish 10-3. That may seem like a disappointing season to the fans who take it for granted that Clemson will win the ACC and make the playoff every year, but there are many blue-blood programs that would kill for a 10-win season, including Texas, Nebraska, USC, Miami, FSU and Tennessee. And the vast majority of programs have never achieved double-digit wins more than once! So, while this bowl game may not carry the weight of a playoff game of one of the four National Championship Games in which the Tigers played over a five-year period, you can bet that it means a whole lot to the coaches and players to notch that 10th win. Only two other programs in history have done so for 11 straight seasons: FSU and Alabama. Clemson can become the third on Wednesday night. Of course, this game means just as much to Iowa State! An opportunity to knock off one of the preeminent programs of the last 10 years. Matt Campbell has taken this Iowa State program to unprecedented heights, and a signature win over Clemson would go an enormous way to strengthening the credibility of his program. So this will be like a Super Bowl for the Cyclones! If you missed it over your Christmas vacation, click HERE for all of our bowl week coverage from Orlando, including interviews, press conferences, practice footage and team outing videos.
On to the matchup….
This is the first meeting between Clemson and Iowa State....Clemson is 5-4 all-time versus teams from the Big 12 and have won their last two bowl meetings with Big 12 teams….Clemson (87-10) is three wins behind Alabama (90-6) for the most since 2015. The Tigers (130) trail only Alabama (139) for the most wins since 2011. They have 7 more than Ohio State. Clemson leads the nation in Power Five wins (92) since 2013. Alabama has 90 and Ohio State has 86 over that span....Clemson has beaten at least 12 Power Five opponents in 4 of the last 6 seasons. In college football history, that feat has only been achieved 4 other times. Alabama, LSU, Georgia and FSU each accomplished it once….The Tigers have won 10 or more games for 10 straight seasons, the third-longest streak in history behind FSU (14) and Alabama (14), which is also an active streak…The Tigers’ streak of 6 straight outright conference titles tied Oklahoma’s streak for the third-longest in history. Oklahoma won 12 in the 40’s and 50’s and BYU won the WAC 7 straight times in the 70’s and 80’s. However, Clemson is the only program to have won 6 straight conference championship games….Clemson has finished in the top-4 of the AP Poll in 6 consecutive seasons, tied with Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma teams for the fourth-longest streak in history. FSU did so 13 straight seasons under the late great Bobby Bowden, while USC and Miami have each done so 7 straight seasons….Dabo Swinney has the best active win percentage in the nation at .802. Nick Saban is second at .799….Dabo’s 148 wins passed Nebraska legend Tom Osborne for third-most by a coach in his first 15 seasons, but Dabo is only in his 13th full season. He could quite conceivably top Urban Meyer’s record of 165 wins in his first 15 seasons….Dabo is fourth on the list of most games coached as an ACC head coach….Clemson has been ranked No.1 in the AP Poll in each of the last 6 seasons, which is the third-longest streak of all time behind Alabama (14) and Miami (7). Alabama’s streak is also active….Clemson had by far the longest active streak ranked in the top 5 of the AP Poll at 57 straight weeks before dropping to No.6 because of a pick-six in the opener against now No.2 Georgia. Alabama was second at 21, followed by Georgia and Oklahoma with just 4 each. If Clemson had remained in the AP top 5 until the end of the regular season, it would have surpassed Alabama’s all-time record of 68. Clemson’s streak of 97 straight weeks in the AP top 10, which ended this season, is the 3rd-longest streak in history behind Miami (137) and Alabama’s current streak of 103…Since 2011, Clemson has finished with an equal or higher ranking than its preseason ranking every year except for 2019 and 2020, the only two years the Tigers have been ranked No.1 preseason. The Tigers were ranked No.2 and No.3 in the 2021 preseason polls…
IOWA STATE SYNOPSIS
The Cyclones had big expectations coming into the season and may be somewhat of a disappointment at 7-5, but they were the only team to beat Oklahoma State during the regular season, and that likely cost the Cowboys a spot in the playoff. The big news leading into the bowl was the announcement a week and a half ago that star running back Breece Hall would opt out of the game in order to protect himself for the NFL Draft. That is a monumental loss for the Cyclones because Hall. a three-year starter, was practically their entire running game. He had 1,472 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns in addition to 36 catches for 302 yards and 3 TD’s. He had perhaps the best game of his career in his last outing against TCU, racking up 242 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. Unlike many teams that split the carries fairly evenly between 2 or 3 backs, Hall accounted for by far most of their production in the run game. The next back on the depth chart, 6’0, 215-pound sophomore Jirehl Brock (#21), has rushed for just 132 yards and one touchdown this season! QB Brock Purdy is their second-leading rusher with 224 yards and one touchdown this season. Brock averages a respectable 5.7 yards per carry and their other back, 5’8, 185-pound freshman Deon Silas (#22), averages 5.9 yards per carry with 2 TD’s, but they have combined for just 34 carries this season.
The Clones are led by veteran quarterback Brock Purdy, who is a four-year starter. He has completed a remarkable 73.1% of his passes this season, which is 4th in the nation and just 1.8% less than Spencer Rattler, the national leader. However, Purdy has just 18 touchdown passes and 7 interceptions this season to go with his 2,984 passing yards. His biggest weapons in the passing game are 6’3, 210-pound senior WR Xavier Hutchinson (#8) and 6’6, 260-pound senior TE Charlie Kolar (#88). Hutchinson has 82 catches for 953 yards and 5 touchdowns this season. He is from nearby Jacksonville, so I expect he’ll bring his very best in front of his family and friends in attendance. Kolar has 58 catches for 723 yards and 5 TD’s. Ironically, he is from Norman, OK, where the University of Oklahoma is located! 5’10, 195-pound senior slot receiver Tarique Milton only has 15 catches, but he averages 18.5 yards per catch and has 3 TD’s this season. He is from nearby Bradenton, FL, where IMG Academy is located.
Defensively, the Clones have a couple prolific pass rushers in junior Will McDonald (#9) and senior Eyioma Uwazurkie (#58). The latter has 8.5 sacks and the former has 11.5 sacks this season! As a team, however, Iowa State is just 46th nationally with 32 sacks. They have 3 players in the secondary with 2 interceptions apiece but have just 10 INT’s and 4 fumble recoveries as a team. They have only turned the ball over 13 times this season, so they rank 28th in turnover margin at +.08 per game.
The Cyclones have an excellent kicker in senior Andrew Mevis. He is 18-20 on field goals this season and perfect inside 40 yards. He is 2-2 over 50 yards, including a long of 54 yards.
Obviously, the past few weeks have been stressful ones for the Tigers and full of changes. Dabo has had the luxury of stability and continuity on the coaching staff for the last several years and throughout this playoff run, but that all changed a couple weeks ago with the departure of Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables to Oklahoma and Offensive Coordinator Tony Elliott to UVA. New Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach Brandon Streeter will move up to the box and call the plays. Former Defensive Analyst Wes Goodwin, a protégé of Brent Venables and NFL Head Coach Bruce Aryans, will take over as the defensive play caller and is Co-DC along with Safeties Coach Mickey Conn, who was Dabo’s roommate at Alabama. Some think he is a big reason for the enormous success of Venables over the past 8 years. Streeter, you’ll recall, called the plays for the Tigers against Ohio State in the CFP Semifinal last year with Tony Elliott out for Covid, and that was an inauspicious start for Streeter. Let’s hope for a better showing this time! As for the defense, I think it helps enormously with the transition to have “Coach Skalski” on the field to help communicate.
As I reported weeks ago, the Tigers will be without Ross and starting LB Baylon Spector for the bowl game. It’s a disappointing way for Spector to end his career, and we’re still waiting to find out if we’ve seen Ross’s last game. WR Joseph Ngata might be able to play after missing the last few games, and EJ Williams should be back as well. So hopefully the Tigers won’t have to start Will Swinney at receiver like they did in their last two games.
Remarkably, the Tigers haven’t had any opt outs like just about every other big program. I was expecting, at the very least, that NFL First-Round prospect Andrew Booth and Xavier Thomas would opt out, especially given that this will be their first bowl game in which a national title wasn’t on the line. That speaks volumes about the culture of this program and how much it means to the players to keep that 10-win season streak going! Heck, we’ve seen opt outs across the board, even from New Year’s Six bowls. Last year, UNC’s two star running backs and star linebacker all opted out of the Orange Bowl even though it was the first NY6 bowl for the Heels in 60 years! They would have won that game easily too if they had played, but wound up losing a close game to Texas A&M. Just yesterday, it was announced that Ohio State’s top two receivers are opting out of the Rose Bowl for Pete’s sake! And yet every single Tiger who is able will be suiting up to go to battle in the Cheez-It Bowl. That is remarkable, folks! Of course, they will still be missing several starters and backups because of all the injuries this season, but at least no one will be sitting out by choice. On the other hand, the Tigers have lost some more players to the transfer portal in recent weeks, including WR Frank Ladson, LB Kane Patterson and backup QB Taisun Phommachanh. That means freshman and former walk-on Hunter Helms will lead the offense if something happens to DJ. Helms had an excellent August camp and probably led the offense better than DJ did in their two scrimmages, but he has had very few game reps this season because of all the close games. He had two TD passes as a walk-on at Georgia Tech last season, and I feel confident that he can move the offense if called upon.
The Tigers’ run game has been the story, though, over the last few games of the season. Shipley and Pace have really emerged as a lethal one-two punch, and Mafah is no slouch either. Pace will wear No.7 in the bowl game now that Taisun has left the team. The offensive line has really started to come together now that they’ve had some games under their belt to cohere, and I can’t wait to see how well the Tigers run the ball against a respectable Iowa State defense.
Finally, after Venables took the Oklahoma job, Dabo told me Tyler Venables intends to remain at Clemson, so that is great news for the defense!
Be sure to click HERE for a final player availability report about two hours before kickoff.
Even before the announcement that Breece Hall would not play, I would have expected the Tigers to win this game comfortably—especially with a few weeks to rest and get healthy. But with Hall out, I don’t know how the Cyclones will be able to score against this defense, led by Jamie Skalski in his final game. The Tigers should be able to rush 3 and drop 8 so Hall has no options in the pass game. They will also be able to blitz all night with no real running threat. The offense has looked great in the last 3 games despite missing several players and starting two true freshmen and Will Swinney at receiver.
It will be interesting to see what the crowd is like for this game. On one hand, I think Iowa State fans will be extremely excited and travel for this game, which is like a Super Bowl for them. They haven’t been to many bowl games over the years, and Orlando is a nice destination in which to spend New Year’s if you live in frigid Iowa. And Clemson fans, while much closer to Orlando, might be bankrupt from the past 6 years with 4 National Championship Games and decide not to make the trip for this one. So we’ll see if one team or the other has a crowd advantage.
I love the body language and enthusiasm I’ve seen from this team over the last few weeks! Dabo is a master at motivation and getting his teams ready for these post-season, and I expect yet another Gatorade bath for Dabo. The Tigers remarkably extend their 10-win season streak to 11 years, just 3 behind FSU and Alabama for the most ever!
CLEMSON 34 Iowa State 10
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