It’s that time of the year again – bowl season. This year’s matchup will feature the Irish taking on the Cyclones of Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl and this game has some interesting narratives swirling around it. Amidst the recent departure of Notre Dame’s Offensive Coordinator, Chip Long, will Notre Dame be able to continue their winning ways against a 7-5 Iowa State team? Unfortunately, this game puts the Irish in a tough situation; a win is not going to move the national narrative because the reaction will be that Notre Dame should beat Iowa State – they are not necessarily a marquee opponent; but a loss would be the front page, headlining news that the Cyclones were able to upset the Irish. Notre Dame is stuck between a rock and a hard place going into this game and it is all the more reason that they should look to win convincingly and prove that they have been underrated for the majority of the second half of the college football season.
When looking at the two team’s mentalities going into this game, it should be taken into consideration that Iowa State is undoubtedly excited to have drawn a matchup with a program like Notre Dame while an Irish squad coming off an appearance in the College Football Playoffs just a year ago, and losing it’s play caller prior to the start of this game, may be coming in with less enthusiasm. I hope that this is not the case because an eleventh win on the season would continue to keep the Notre Dame program on a great upward trajectory and would likely lead to a higher ranked finish that either Michigan or Alabama (something that no Irish fan should complain about). Unlike past seasons, this year’s Notre Dame team is charging full speed ahead into this bowl matchup, not limping in to a post-season appearance and I do believe that this should give Irish fans hope and confidence entering Saturday. As this will be the first time that the Iowa State football team has played a game in the state of Florida, there are a few things that Irish fans should know going into the final game of the 2019 campaign.
The Cyclones are coming into Saturday’s matchup being coached by Matt Campbell – Iowa State’s head coach since 2015. Campbell has been connected to numerous rumors as a potential successor to Brian Kelly following Kelly’s time at Notre Dame, so it will be a good chance for Irish fans to see his coaching style up close. Iowa State is a very well coached program – not typically getting top recruits, but developing the athletes that they have to high producing, disciplined players. The Cyclones are led on offense by sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy who has thrown for 3,760 yards, 27 touchdowns, and only 9 interceptions this season. Purdy is completing just over 66% of his passing attempts and has helped the Cyclones to scoring an average of 34 points per game. Offensively, this team is no joke. Going up against Big 12 competition, Iowa State is used to needing to put up big numbers in order to compete. Purdy will be joined in the backfield by freshman running back Breece Hall, the Cyclones leading rusher this season who has totaled 842 yards and 9 rushing touchdowns this season. Senior Deshaunte Jones and sophomore Tarique Milton are the Cyclones leading receivers with Jones seeing the majority of the targets while Milton being a more big-play, speed receiver.
Good news for Irish fans is that as of the writing of this article, none of the Notre Dame players have announced that they will be sitting out of the bowl game in order to prepare or save themselves for the NFL. It will take another full team effort for the Irish to finish the season with an 11-2 record. Now yes, Texas is the only Big 12 team that Iowa State beat that finished with a winning record, but this matchup still requires this year’s Irish team to execute to their standard in order to put the game away. Notre Dame will be going up against an Iowa State defense that typically only plays with three down linemen while dropping eight into coverage, so the Irish run game will need to be productive, especially early, for Notre Dame to have success. If the Irish are able to get the ground game working, this will further open up the more explosive receivers – Claypool, Finke, and McKinley – and bigger and more physical tight ends – Kmet, Tremble, and Wright. It is a relatively large disadvantage going into this matchup with a play caller who has never called offensive plays in his career, but with Tom Rees stepping in as the interim Offensive Coordinator for the Irish, he does bring experience as a player in Kelly’s system as well as a coach on this staff. Do I wish someone with more experience like Lance Taylor was the one stepping in and calling the plays? Absolutely! But I am hoping that the Irish offense, under the coordination of Rees, will come out playing free and loose and put up enough points to take the momentum away early and finish the game without a question of the outcome. Defensively, I think that the Irish will give up two touchdowns early, but after Clark Lea is able to get a better grasp of what is going on and how to counter it, I think the Notre Dame defense will continue to play to the high level that they have been (almost) all season. No, it is not the most prestigious bowl game, but it is our last chance to watch Notre Dame football for months so let’s enjoy it. An eleventh win on the season would be great for the program and that is what I’m projecting. I think that Notre Dame will come out victorious with a final score of 31-20. For one final time during the 2019 season: Go Irish. Beat Cyclones.