116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Breaking down Wednesday’s Cheez-It Bowl game between Iowa State (7-5) and No. 19 Clemson (9-3) at 4:45 p.m. (CT).
Iowa State offense
What will life without Breece Hall look like for Iowa State? The consensus two-time All-American will be there to cheer on the Cyclones — but not to play — as he prepares for the 2022 NFL Draft.
Hall was clearly ISU’s offensive workhorse and focal point, so where the Cyclones go from here is anyone’s guess. Jirehl Brock emerges as the primary tailback, but this could mean quarterback Brock Purdy becomes more involved in the run game or delivers more passes to receiver Xavier Hutchinson and tight ends Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen.
Hutchinson boasts four 100-yard receiving games, but hasn’t scored a touchdown since the Oct. 23 win over No. 9 Oklahoma State. Kolar has three touchdown catches in the past three games and Allen has two touchdowns in the past two games.
The Tigers struggled mightily offensively over the first half of the season as talented, but green quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei worked to become more comfortable.
Getting sacked 20 times didn’t help that transition and Uiagalelei’s numbers show he’s still a work in progress. He’s completed 54.7 percent of his passes for just nine touchdowns and nine interceptions, but remains a big threat with his arm and his legs (four rushing touchdowns).
Clemson, like ISU, prefers to run the ball anyway, and the Tigers boast a solid running back by committee group. Will Shipley leads the way with 678 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kobe Pace adds 590 yards and six touchdowns.
Iowa State defense
The Cyclones should be as healthy as they’ve been on this side of the ball since the start of the season.
The key will be taking the run away, which may prove difficult given how Uiagalelei can serve as a wild card in this regard (296 sacks-affected rushing yards this season). If ISU can keep the Tigers from getting chunk plays in the run game, Will McDonald and company can apply amped-up pressure to Uiagalelei, who will be without his top target, Justyn Ross, because of injury.
The Cyclones are tied for 13th nationally in rushing touchdowns allowed (10) and rank 10th in total defense (309.2 yards per game).
Stifling is the word that best describes this veteran, but banged-up unit for the Tigers.
Clemson’s allowed 14 points or fewer in seven of its 12 games this season — and no foe has scored more than 27 points. The Tigers feature erasers at each level, headlined by defensive tackle Tyler Davis, linebacker James Skalski and defensive backs Andrew Booth Jr. and Mario Goodrich.
Clemson ranks second nationally in scoring defense (15.0) and ninth nationally in total defense (308.4 yards per game). The Tigers are fourth-best among FBS teams in yards per play allowed (4.41).
Cheez-It Bowl prediction
Two of the nation’s top defenses will make it difficult for the offenses to dent the scoreboard. Yards will be a somewhat different matter because Iowa State and Clemson seek to eliminate big plays and force teams to sustain long drives or make a critical mistake in the process.
Which team will do the latter when it matters most? Based on this season’s track record, I foresee yet another ISU game coming down to the final moments — and despite some heroics from Purdy and his fellow Cyclone seniors, the Tigers narrowly prevail.
Clemson 24, Iowa State 20