ORLANDO, FL - It was a frustrating season for Clemson fans with an unprecedented number of injuries, and the Tigers were literally 3 or 4 plays from being undefeated and making their 7th straight playoff, but you couldn't tell by the joy on the coaches' and players' faces tonight after beating Iowa State to finish 10-3. To win 10 games for 11 straight years is truly remarkable in and of itself. It has only been accomplished two other times in the history of college football--once by Bobby Bowden and FSU and once by Nick Saban and Alabama. But the fact that the Tigers have done so in spite of Covid last year and having 30 scholarship players missing games with injury this year makes it all the more remarkable. On top of perhaps the most injuries to starters in the history of college football, the Tigers had to play four top-20 teams, 3 of them away from home, including the team that was No.1 for most of the season. Just about any other team would have gone 2-10 with that schedule and those injuries, but the Tigers finished 10-3! All you need to know about the culture of this program is the fact that they had zero opt outs for the Cheez-It Bowl in an age when other teams are having their stars opt out of New Year's Six bowls like the Rose and Orange! Kenny Pickett opted out when he had a chance to give Pitt a New Year's Six bowl win for the first time in 45 years! UNC had its two star running backs and star linebacker opt out of the Orange Bowl last year--the first New Year's Six bowl for the Heels in 60 years! Ohio State had its top 2 receivers opt out of the Rose Bowl last week. On and on and on. And this is the Cheez-It Bowl we're talking about! After playing for a national title every other year in their career, each and every one of these Clemson players decided to suit up and go to battle one more time to keep the 10-win season streak going.
It was a bitter-sweet ending to the long, accomplished careers of James Skalski, Nolan Turner and Baylon Spector. Turner and Spector both missed the start of the game with injuries, and Skalski was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a foot or ankle injury. It's amazing that the defense was able to hold Brock Purdy and the Iowa State offense to just 6 points for most of the game without 5 starters from the start of the season, including Skalski. We have seen how much the Tigers miss Skalski when he's been out in the past. He was ejected from the last two Tigers' CFP losses. He was knocked out of the NC State game, and they lost in overtime. He missed the Notre Dame game in South Bend last year, and they lost in overtime. However, the defense was phenomenal against the Cyclones in spite of his absence. True freshman Barrett Carter was fooled by senior All-American tight end Charlie Kolar for the Cyclones' only touchdown in the 4th quarter, but Keith Maguire did an excellent job filling in at linebacker. Four-year starting QB Brock Purdy was 4th in the nation, completing 73.1% of his passes this season but only completed 59% for 204 yards against the Tigers.
The Tigers' offense got off to a great start, driving all the way down to the 4-yard line but settled for a field goal on 4th and goal. The opening drive was kept alive thanks to a third-down catch by Will Swinney, playing in his final game. He started at receiver for the third straight game because of all the Tigers' injuries at receiver. Ross and EJ Williams were out with injury, Ladson and Ajou transferred, and Ngata was coming off an injury that sidelined him for the previous few games. DJ played pretty well for the most part, protecting the football and avoiding sacks. He did have one interception, but it was on a deflected pass. He also made a couple great passes that were dropped, which has been the case in just about every game this season. He made a tremendous improvisational pitch to Shipley that should have converted a 3rd down, but Shipley dropped it, much like the one he dropped on the opening drive at NC State. A little later, freshman Beaux Collins dropped a third-down pass that hit him right in the hands. However, each player would redeem himself later. Shipley scored the Tigers' only offensive touchdown in the 3rd quarter and also made an incredible diving catch in coverage. Collins made a circus catch to convert a 3rd down that led to Shipley's touchdown.
It was musical chairs once again for the Tigers' offensive line. Trotter was expected to start at center but could not play, so Rayburn moved to center, and true freshman Marcus Tate started at guard. What a job Robbie Caldwell did with the offensive line this season! Dabo announced after the game that this season was indeed his last, and it was probably his most challenging because of the injuries and inexperience he had to deal with. The Tigers had a different starting lineup on the line in almost every game this season. Caldwell came to Clemson in 2011, and the Tigers have won at least 10 games every season since! He was the recipient of a Gatorade bath after the game. Dabo announced after the game that former Clemson OL Thomas Austin will replace Caldwell as Offensive Line Coach. Dabo gave his rookie coordinators an A plus after the game. I'm not sure I would give the offense an A plus for scoring just 13 points, although they did start two freshmen and a former walk-on at receiver. I'll have to watch the game again to analyze the offense and the play calling in more detail. BT Potter uncharacteristically missed a 36-yard field goal, but he was 2-3 including a 51-yarder, tying his season long.
What a game by Mario Goodrich! I didn't have to think at all in voting for him to be MVP of the game, and that's rare for a defensive player. Nobody in the media talked about Goodrich much because all of the attention was on Booth, who is expected to be a first-round NFL Draft pick. About half-way through the season, I asked Dabo about the season Booth was having because he's been one of the unsung heroes of this historically great defense. Here's a senior who didn't transfer but waited for his time, kept working and getting better, and it's only fitting that he would be the MVP of the bowl game. His pick-six in the 3rd quarter gave the Tigers a 20-6 lead, and his forced fumble on Purdy on 4th down with 30 seconds left sealed the game for the Tigers. Goodrich was beat in the first quarter on a deep ball by an All-Big 12 receiver, which led to a field goal, but he sure made up for it and then some!
The Tigers are now astoundingly 32-7 in one-score games since 2011, which is by far the best percentage in the nation over that period. Really, they are 33-7 because it was a fumble recovery for a TD as time expired that gave them a two-score win over FSU. What a way for Dabo to win his 150th game! Dabo is just the 3rd coach in history to win that many games in his first 15 seasons, and he is only in his 13th full season! He will likely pass Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops for the most wins ever by a coach in his first 15 seasons. He only needs 16 wins in the next 2 seasons to do so! The Tigers won their last 6 straight games and 8 of 9 to finish 10-3. They might not finish in the top 10 of the final rankings, but this is a top-10 team. No other team, except maybe Alabama, will be as close to being undefeated as the Tigers. Even Georgia had a blowout loss to Alabama. Whatever their final ranking, I guarantee the Tigers will be back with a vengeance next season! It will be an exciting quarterback battle this spring between DJ and freshman Cade Klubnik, who was the Elite 11 MVP, so stay tuned right here for all your Clemson football and basketball coverage! Post-game interviews, highlights and notes are below.
WITH THE WIN...
Head Coach Dabo Swinney earned his 150th career win in his 14th season (including an interim stint in 2008) to move past Barry Switzer (149) for sole possession of the third-most wins through the first 15 seasons of a coaching career in FBS history.
Swinney joined Urban Meyer (165) and Bob Stoops (160) as the only coaches in FBS history to win 150 games in the first 15 seasons of a head coaching career.
Swinney earned his 150th career win in only his 186th career game as head coach. He became the sixth-fastest coach in FBS history to 150 wins, trailing only Urban Meyer (176), Gil Dobie (180), Barry Switzer (180), Fielding Yost (184) and Joe Paterno (184). Swinney is the fourth-fastest in the modern era.
Swinney joined Bobby Bowden as the only head coaches ever to lead an ACC program to 150 career wins. Of Bowden's 377 career wins, a conference-record 173 came during the Seminoles' membership in the ACC.
Swinney earned his 11th bowl victory to tie Bowden’s ACC record (11) for the most career bowl wins leading an ACC program.
Clemson won its 10th game of the season and has now recorded at least 10 wins for a school-record 11th consecutive season. Clemson became only the third program in history ever to post 11 consecutive 10-win seasons, joining Florida State (14 from 1987-2000) and Alabama (14 from 2008-21). Clemson is the first school to win 10 games in 11 straight seasons as a member of the ACC, as only the final nine of Florida State's 14-straight 10-win seasons came during the Seminoles' tenure in the ACC.
Clemson now has 18 seasons of 10 or more wins in school history, with 11 coming under Dabo Swinney.
Clemson won 10 games in a season in which it started 2-2 or worse for the second time in school history, joining the 2014 Tigers that rebounded from a 2-2 start through four games (and a 1-2 start through three games) to finish 10-3 with a bowl win in Orlando. Beyond the 2021 and 2014 teams, the only other Clemson team to reach even nine wins after starting .500 or worse through four games was its 2009 team, which started 2-2 and finished 9-5.
Clemson improved to 26-22 all-time in bowl contests, tying Nebraska and Ohio State for 10th-most bowl wins in FBS history.
Clemson improved to 3-1 all-time in the Cheez-It Bowl across the game's various monikers. Clemson lost to Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl in 2002 but defeated Colorado in the Champs Sports Bowl in 2005 and beat Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl in 2014.
Clemson improved to 6-4 all-time against teams in the Big 12 Conference at the time of the game, including winning its two most recent meetings in 2014 and 2015, both against Oklahoma in postseason play. Six of Clemson's nine games against the Big 12 prior to the Cheez-It Bowl came against teams no longer in the conference (two against Missouri, two against Texas A&M and one each against Colorado and Nebraska).
Clemson evened its all-time record against schools currently in the Big 12 Conference at 7-7.
Clemson has now won at least one bowl game in eight of its last 10 seasons. The win made Clemson 10-4 in bowl games since 2012, including College Football Playoff National Championship Games.
Clemson won its 15th consecutive December game, dating to Clemson’s 2011 ACC Championship Game victory against Virginia Tech. Clemson (15-0) is one of three schools to be undefeated in December since 2011 with a minimum of five games played, a list that also includes Alabama (12-0) and Penn State (7-0) prior to their upcoming bowl games.
Clemson improved to 26-13 all-time in December games, including postseason play.
Clemson is now 66-4 when scoring first since 2015.
Clemson led 6-3 at halftime and has now won 96 of its last 98 games, including each of its last 59, when leading at halftime.
Clemson improved to 118-2 since 2011 when leading after three quarters.
Clemson now has a 116-2 record when totaling more first downs than its opponent since 2011.
Clemson has now won 97 of its last 98 games when holding teams under 23 points (dates to 2010), including 89 straight prior to a season-opening 10-3 loss to Georgia in 2021.
Clemson has now won 32 of its last 39 one-possession games since 2011, the highest winning percentage in the country in one-score games in that span.
Clemson played its seventh one-possession game of the season, improving to 5-2 in those contests. It marked the eighth season in which Clemson played at least seven games decided by eight or fewer points, joining the 1958, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1985 and 2015 seasons (seven each) and 2016 season (eight).
Clemson faced Iowa State for the first time in school history. The Cyclones became the 107th different opponent faced by Clemson all-time.
Clemson improved to 65-38-4 all-time in its first meeting with its 107 opponents, including a 16-1 mark in first meetings since 2003. Clemson has won 18 of its last 20 games when making its all-time debut against a new opponent.
Head Coach Dabo Swinney made his 18th bowl game appearance (including CFP National Championship Games) as head coach to tie Bobby Bowden’s ACC record (18) for the most career bowl appearances leading an ACC program. (Note: Only 18 of Bowden's 32 total career bowl appearances came during Florida State's years of ACC membership.)
Placekicker B.T. Potter hit 2-of-3 field goals and both of his extra point attempts for eight total points.
Potter (21-of-26) finished the season having posted only the 11th 20-field-goal season in school history and Clemson’s first since 2015 (Greg Huegel, 27).
Potter has now kicked multiple field goals in five consecutive games for the first time in his career. In the four games prior to the Cheez-It Bowl, Potter went 3-of-3 against Louisville, UConn and South Carolina and 2-for-2 against Wake Forest.
Potter added a 51-yard field goal in the second quarter, a season long.
Potter’s 51-yard field goal was one-yard shy of the Clemson bowl record for longest field goal, set by Potter himself two years ago against LSU (52 yards). He also added to his single-season (12) and career (26) school records for field goals of 40-plus yards.
With the 51-yarder, Potter added to his Clemson record for career field goals of 50 yards or more with the seventh of his career.
Including his eight points scored on Wednesday to reach the 100-point mark, Potter (101 in 2021) became the first player in Clemson history to score 100 points in three consecutive seasons. Potter scored 118 points in 2019 and 115 points in 2020 and reached the century mark for 2021 on a third-quarter PAT.
Potter will return next season having scored in 42 consecutive contests. He has scored in every game since earning the starting placekicking job prior to the 2019 season. He served as the team's kickoff specialist in 2018.
Potter missed a 36-yard goal on the final play of the first half, ending a streak of 13 consecutive successful field goal attempts, one shy of Obed Ariri (14 straight in 1980) for the third-longest streak of consecutive field goals made in school history.
Running back Will Shipley finished with 18 carries for 61 yards and a touchdown and five receptions for 53 yards. Running back Kobe Pace finished with 12 carries for 51 yards and four receptions for 38 yards.
Clemson received the opening kickoff and drove 69 yards in 15 plays, resulting in a 23-yard Potter field goal.
8:08 elapsed during the opening drive, Clemson’s longest drive by time of the season. At the time, the 15-play drive also temporarily tied for the longest drive by plays for Clemson this season, matching a 15-play drive against UConn.
After scoring on its opening possession only once in its first eight games, Clemson finished the season having scored on its opening drive in each of its last five games.
Shipley recorded a career-long 19-yard reception on the game’s opening drive.
In the third quarter, Shipley recorded the game’s first touchdown on a 12-yard touchdown run.
On the touchdown run, Shipley (11) passed C.J. Spiller (10 in 2006) for sole possession of the second-most rushing touchdowns by a Clemson true freshman since 1972. His freshman total trailed only Travis Etienne’s 13 in 2017 in Clemson history.
Shipley’s touchdown run was the culmination of a 16-play, 79-yard drive, supplanting the opening drive and the drive against UConn as Clemson’s longest drive by plays this season and its most since a 16-play drive against Miami (Fla.) in 2020. Clemson finished with three drives of at least 14 plays.
Wide receiver Dacari Collins had a career-high-tying six receptions for 56 yards on six targets, all in the first half. Four of his six receptions were for first downs.
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei completed 21-of-32 passes for 187 yards. His 21 completions tied his season high set against Syracuse and UConn.
Cornerback Mario Goodrich recorded his second interception of the season, returning a batted Brock Purdy pass 18 yards for a touchdown. The interception was Goodrich’s fifth of his career and resulted in his first career touchdown at the collegiate level.
The defensive touchdown was Clemson’s second of the season, joining linebacker Barrett Carter’s fumble return touchdown against Florida State.
With its second defensive touchdown of the year, Clemson has now recorded multiple defensive touchdowns in 12 straight seasons. The last time Clemson had fewer than two defensive touchdowns in a season was 2009, Dabo Swinney's first full season as head coach, when the Tigers supplemented a single defensive touchdown with six special teams touchdowns.
Goodrich’s interception return touchdown was Clemson’s first since 2019, when Derion Kendrick returned a Florida State interception 38 yards for a score.
Goodrich’s interception return touchdown was Clemson’s first in a bowl game since A.J. Terrell’s pick-six against Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game to end the 2018 season.
Goodrich helped seal the victory with a fourth-down forced fumble that left Iowa State short of the line to gain on the Cyclones’ final possession. It was Goodrich’s first career forced fumble on what was likely to be the final snap of his college career.
Clemson surrendered three points following a Clemson interception at its own 28-yard line in the third quarter. Clemson only allowed 27 points off turnovers this season. However, 21 of those points have come off of two pick-sixes and a strip-sack fumble return, so the Clemson defense has only surrendered three points on possessions following a Clemson turnover this season. Before the Cheez-It Bowl, the only offense to score following a Clemson turnover this year had been South Carolina State, which turned a Michel Dukes fumble at the Clemson 36 into a field goal.
Clemson held Iowa State to 66 rushing yards, marking Clemson’s first time holding four straight opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards for the first time since a five-game streak to end 2010.
Defensive end K.J. Henry recorded Clemson’s only sack and ends the season having recorded at least a half-sack in four straight games for the first time in his career. His 4.5 sacks this season broke his single-season career high from 2020 (3.5).
Punter Will Spiers, wide receiver/holder Will Swinney and linebacker James Skalski each played in their 69th career games to extend their school record for most career games played. Among accessible data and responses from FBS Sports Information Directors, the 69 games played by each member of the trio is believed to be a modern FBS record.
Spiers started his 69th game to add to his school and national record for career starts. Swinney's career total as Clemson's primary holder parallels Spiers' run as starting punter.
Spiers placed three of his punts inside the 20, giving him 27 on the year and placing him one shy of Bradley Pinion's school record for punts downed inside the 20 in a single season (28 in 2014). His 108 career punts downed inside the 20 are Clemson's career record by a wide margin, leading No. 2 Dale Hatcher's 69 from 1981-84.
Four Tigers — OT Jordan McFadden, OL Walker Parks, LB James Skalski and QB DJ Uiagalelei — started and became the only Clemson players to start every game this season on offense or defense. Every other Clemson offensive or defensive starter missed time or played as a reserve at some point in 2021.
Captains for the contest were Clemson’s elected permanent captains for the 2021 season: offensive lineman Matt Bockhorst (injured), wide receiver Will Brown, cornerback Mario Goodrich, wide receiver Justyn Ross (injured), linebacker James Skalski, linebacker Baylon Spector (injured), punter Will Spiers and safety Nolan Turner (injured).