ORLANDO — It happened again.
Although Clemson’s season ended at Camping World Stadium on Dec. 29 — a different date and location than they would’ve hoped for/expected in the preseason — they hung on for a 20-13 win over Iowa State in Wednesday’s Cheez-It Bowl.
What happened exactly?
Clemson has yet another 10-win season under its belt. They kept the tradition alive. The Tigers finished with 10 wins for the 11th season in a row.
This one didn’t come easy, though.
Thanks to Mario Goodrich, Jr., Clemson staved off Iowa State’s potential game-tying drive.
On a critical 4th-and-2, Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy was flushed out of the pocket. He had extended the same and lived to see another down — or so he thought.
After reaching the first down marker, Purdy was met by the iron first of Mario Goodrich, Jr. Clemson’s senior cornerback, who earned MVP honors, punched the ball out of the senior’s hands.
Purdy landed on it, but he was back where he started — behind the line of scrimmage.
Standing at 2-2 at the end of September, Clemson’s season was on the brink of abject disappointment. The Tigers stared adversity in the face and lived to face another down.
They won 8-of-9 games, culminating in a major victory over Matt Campbell’s Iowa State team and a Cheez-It bath for Dabo Swinney.
As has been the case with most of Clemson’s wins this season, it wasn’t pretty, but the Tigers got the job done. After outscoring its previous opponents — UConn, Wake Forest and South Carolina — 122-34, this win didn’t come as lopsided or convincingly.
It was another game that came down to the wire, but it didn’t need to be that way.
Judging by the score at halftime, 6-3, the game was certainly heading that way. Though, Clemson jumped out to a 20-3 lead with just four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
D.J. Uiagalelei wasn’t nearly as effective as he was in the first half, but he played well enough to put Clemson in a position to win. Though, his 10th interception of the season allowed the Cyclones to stay in Wednesday’s contest.
If not for that ill-timed interception, Clemson could have put the game away for good.
The Tigers led by as many as 17, but they left the door open for Iowa State to make its run. Clemson had a split-second chance to put the game out of reach yet again, but a little bit of luck and a poorly-timed penalty, allowed the Cyclones to continue its lone touchdown drive of the game
Tigers redshirt sophomore linebacker Keith Maguire intercepted a poorly thrown pass by Iowa State freshman WR Jaylin Noel.
The story here is that Maguire wound up fumbling the ball on the interception return. Though, the interception wouldn’t have ultimately been negated, as Barrett Carter was called for roughing the “passer.”
Clemson didn’t run the ball as efficiently or effectively as it would’ve liked to during Wednesday’s win over Iowa State, but it was Will Shipley who jumpstarted Clemson’s offense in the second frame of play.
The true freshman running back, who ran for 61 yards on 18 carries, scored a 12-yard touchdown to cap off Clemson’s first offensive possession of the second-half — a 16-play, 79-yard drive.
On the very next possession, after backing up Iowa State inside its own 20-yard line, Justin Mascoll batted Purdy’s pass out of the air. Purdy tipped it off the ricochet, right into the waiting hands of Goodrich.
The senior cornerback, who played in his final game as a Tiger, returned the intercepted pass for an 18-yard touchdown.
Goodrich’s defensive touchdown means that Clemson has now recorded multiple defensive TDs in 12 straight seasons. The last time Clemson had fewer than two defensive TDs in a season was 2009, also Dabo Swinney’s first full season as head coach.
Goodrich would lose his counterpart on the ensuing possession.
Andrew Booth, Jr. had his head pushed into the ground by Noel. As Booth stood up, he started stumbling and fell. It was a scary moment for the first-team All-ACC cornerback, who should be a first-round pick in April’s draft.
Neither Booth nor James Skalski returned to the game. Skalski limped off the field in the first half with a lower-body injury. He returned to the sidelines in the second half without his pads on and sporting a boot.
Skalski’s absence seemingly had a domino effect as Trenton Simpson and LaVonta Bentley, who each started Wednesday’s game, played sparingly throughout the contest.
While it was the first game as Clemson’s co-defensive coordinator and calling the team’s defensive signals, Wes Godowin’s version of the Tigers’ defense rose to the occasion. While they were without some key pieces, they made the necessary stops when it mattered.
Although the score should’ve never been as close as it was, Clemson made just enough plays to inch out an important victory. One that mattered for culture, tradition and recruiting.
Swinney and his Tigers likely celebrated winning the Cheez-It Bowl, more than anyone has before. That’s ok, though. Through all the adversity they fought through, they earned and deserved this one.