ORLANDO, Fla. — Super Mario for the win.
Clemson cornerback Mario Goodrich had an interception and returned it 18 yards in the third quarter for the eventual winning touchdown Wednesday night as the Tigers beat Iowa State, 20-13, in the Cheez-It Bowl at Camping Word Stadium.
It was a signature play for new co-defensive coordinators Wes Goodwin and Mickey Conn as they teamed up in their first game after replacing Brent Venables, who is now coach at Oklahoma. The victory was also the debut for offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter after replacing Tony Elliott, who is now coach at Virginia.
Clemson (10-3) finished the season with six straight victories. Iowa State dropped to 7-6.
TIGERS PICK-SIX ‼️
Clemson's defense pulled off a chaotic play 🤯 pic.twitter.com/Opm3QtELAN
— ESPN (@espn) December 30, 2021
Goodrich, a senior, also officially ended the game as he forced a fumble on the final snap by Iowa State in the closing seconds.
"How about that defense?" Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said during an on-field postgame interview on ESPN. "I know Brent Venables is somewhere smiling, and he's saying, 'I told you my defense didn't go with me to Oklahoma! I told you!' "
After a sluggish first half and a 6-3 lead for Clemson on a pair of field goals by B.T. Potter, things picked up in the second half. The Tigers marched 79 yards on 16 plays for a touchdown and a 13-3 lead, Will Shipley scoring on a 12-yard run.
Here are some immediate takeaways:
Tony Elliott wasn’t to blame for Clemson’s offense
Maybe Elliott deserves an apology.
Fans were tough this season on Elliott, who left before this bowl game to become coach at Virginia. But the Tigers were much better in the second half of the campaign. In the first six games against FBS opponents, they failed to reach 20 points in regulation. After that, however, they averaged 36.4 points and never were under 30 until Wednesday night.
With quarterbacks coach Streeter promoted, there was hope that he would find something different, perhaps an up-tempo style, that has been missing.
Instead, things looked more like they did in the first half of the season. It took Clemson well into the third quarter to score a touchdown. And even then, it was slow and methodical. The Tigers’ drive was 16 plays and took more than seven minutes.
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Penalties hurt TD chances for both teams
Flags on the offensive lines were crucial in keeping both teams out of the end zone in the first half.
Clemson had third-and-goal from the Iowa State 6-yard line on the first possession of the game but a false start moved the ball back to the 11 and the Tigers had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Potter. Iowa State, during the early moments of the second quarter, was down to the Clemson 10 but a false start hurt the Cyclones, who got to the 5 and also had to settle for a field goal.
Shipley had a 29-yard catch-and-run to get Clemson down to the 5-yard line in the second quarter, but Jordan McFadden was called for a block in the back. Potter made a 51-yard field goal to at least get some points out of it and a 6-3 halftime lead.
Will Shipley’s drops put Clemson behind schedule
It’s difficult to say where Clemson would be without the standout performance of freshman running back Will Shipley. But he had two drops that damaged the Tigers’ chances for more points in the first half. He dropped a second-and-6 pass that was a little high but within his reach in the first quarter and they had to punt.
In the second quarter, quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei tossed a perfect flip, option-style, that hit Shipley in the chest at the first down line on third-and-7. Clemson punted it away again.
Clemson keeps 10-win season streak alive
Clemson reached 10 wins for an 11th straight season, a mark that is behind only Florida State’s 14 from 1987-2000 and Alabama’s 14 from 2008-present. Clemson is the first to have 10 wins in 11 consecutive seasons as a member of the ACC. Only nine of Florida State's consecutive 10-win seasons came as a member of the conference.
The Tigers reached 10 wins after a 2-2 start for only the second time in program history. In 2014, they lost two of their first three games and finished with a bowl victory here in Orlando.
Ten wins with a high-profile bowl victory is quite a season for what is considered a down year. Clemson lost only to Georgia (by seven), N.C. State (by six in double overtime) and eventual ACC champion Pitt (by 10).
Todd Shanesy is a 30-year veteran of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal now focusing on Clemson athletics for the USA TODAY network.
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Clemson defeats Iowa State in Cheez-It Bowl: Takeaways