ORLANDO, FL – As games go during bowl season, the Cheez-It Bowl is typically a battle between runners-up of a particular division in a conference. What’s interesting about the Clemson Tigers (9-3) of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12’s Iowa State Cyclones (7-5) doing battle at Camping World Stadium is that both teams have beaten the runner up of their conference during the regular season.
Back in 2019, the Cyclones played against Notre Dame in this bowl game under a different name. Both quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall suited up for those squads. This season, as veterans leading one of the more balanced offensive attacks in the nation, they beat 2021 Big 12 conference runner-up Oklahoma State back in October.
Unfortunately for ISU, since Hall has declared for the 2022 NFL Draft, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year for the past two seasons will not be playing in the Cheez-It Bowl. Hall’s 2021 stats feature 1,472 yards with 20 touchdowns.
Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell spoke about Breece Hall and his sitting out the Cheez-It Bowl:
“I think that’s certainly unique from an Iowa State standpoint just because Breece is such a unique football player. He’s a young man that has done everything for the betterment of Iowa State Football from the first day he’s been on our campus. We certainly understand the situation and opportunity he has in front of him and yet I would say that Breece has been the ultimate leader in that running back room even since he’s decided that the best thing for him is to not play in this game. I think that’s what I love about Breece.”
However, as the season’s Big 12 leader in passing yards with 2,984 while posting 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions, Purdy is an intimidating leader of an offense.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney commented on how his formidable defensive front is preparing for a quarterback with so much experience.
“I think that you just get ready for who they are and what they do. [Purdy] is a great player. He’s a gamer. But we’re not playing freshman over there…they’ve played a lot of great players. So you just have to get ready for what they do and try to affect them. It’s hard. It’s easier said than done. [Purdy] has seen it all too. There’s not much he hasn’t seen.”
Along with his top receiver, Xavier Hutchinson, who has a conference-leading 82 receptions for 953 yards, it is sure that Purdy and the Cyclone air attack will discourage Clemson’s defense from stacking the box up front and give running back Jirehl Block a shot on the ground replacing Hall.
Even still, running the ball may be a challenge considering Clemson’s defensive front has defensive end Myles Murphy and linebacker Trenton Simpson, who have 26 combined tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks.
That may not seem like a big deal compared to Iowa State’s defensive trenches, who boast three players with more than 11 tackles for loss in edge rusher Will McDonald, linebacker Mike Rose and defensive end Eyioma Uwzurike. But while McDonald and Uwzurike are good for 11.5 and 8.5 sacks respectively, Clemson has only given up an average of 15 points per game all season – 5.6 fewer than the Cyclones. And it’s that force in stopping offenses that helped the Tigers beat the ACC conference runners-up, Wake Forest.
What the Cheez-It Bowl will come down to is Clemson’s offense. In the games where the Tigers have struggled, quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei threw interceptions that ended up being the turning point of those contests. It will be key for coach Swinney to protect his quarterback while involving running back Will Shipley to balance the attack to keep the Cyclones guessing.