Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this so I just wanted to bring it to your attention here — the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team will be playing in a bowl game tomorrow.
That’s right, folks, your beloved, 10-2 Irish will be taking on the 7-5 Iowa St. Cyclones in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Florida, kicking off at 12 PM ET on ABC.
The Cyclones certainly have a much worse record than the Irish, but anyone who watched them play this season knows that they’re certainly a more talented and dangerous team than their record would suggest. Iowa State lost those 5 games by a combined 21 points, all to good teams, falling to the now #16 Iowa Hawkeyes by 1, the #7 Baylow Bears by 2, the #25 Oklahoma State Cowboys by 7, the #4 Oklahoma Sooners by 1, and the Kansas State Wildcats by 10.
Overall, the Cyclones rank roughly the same as the Irish in SP+. ISU is 23rd overall, whereas the Irish finished the regular season 19th. So, again, despite the difference in records, there’s a reason ND is just a 3.5-point favorite in Vegas — coach Matt Campbell’s Cyclones are for real.
So, how should we expect this game to go? How do the two teams match up on both sides of the ball? Will QB coach Tom/Tommy Rees tear it up calling the plays?
Let’s dive into that now and prepare ourselves for the finale of this 2019 ND football season.
Iowa State Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
Like a lot of Big 12 offenses, Iowa State’s is very productive and talented and at times, explosive.
The Cyclones offense is ranked 41st in SP+, but in many specific statistics — passing ones, especially — ISU ranks in the top 10-20 units in college football. This offense driven by sophomore QB Brock Purdy is 8th in the country in passing offense (318.3 yards per game), 21st in yards per attempt (8.5), 26th in scoring (34.1 ppg), 20th in total offense (459 yards per game), and 16th in yards per play (6.58).
That kind of production, as I said, has been largely the result of Purdy’s ability to step in as a true freshman last year, quickly take command of the offense, and now as a sophomore show incredible leadership and ability. He’s thrown for 3,760 yards and 27 TDs this year while completing 66% of his passes, picking up 8.4 yards per attempt, and throwing only 9 interceptions.
He’s great both on the run and within the pocket, and has a bevy of talented receivers that he tosses the ball to in this offense. Wide receiver Deshaunte Jones leads the group with 72 receptions, 832 yards, and 2 touchdowns, but the most dangerous guy might actually be Tarique Milton, who has less than half the receptions of Jones (33) but nearly as many yards (689), meaning he is averaging nearly 21 yards per catch this year while reeling in 3 touchdowns of his own. Milton is certainly the big-play guy the Irish secondary will need to keep in front of them.
Another big test for the Irish will be whenever the Cyclones reach the red zone, as Purdy will then definitely turn to his favorite red zone target, tight end Charlie Kolar. Kolar is a big, athletic tight end with fantastic hands, and his talent has been on display this season in the 48 catches he’s reeled in for 675 yards and 7 touchdowns. He will be their go-to guy in goal line passing situations, without a doubt, and how the Irish linebackers and safeties attempt to match up with him will be key.
Other key receivers for the Cyclones include WRs La’Michael Pettway (51 rec, 622 yds, 6 TD) and Sean Shaw Jr. (14 rec, 203 yds, 3 TD) and tight end Chase Allen (17 rec, 167 yds, 2 TD), as well as running back Breece Hall, who’s caught 19 passes for 207 yards and a score on the season.
ISU’s high-powered passing attack, though, likely hasn’t faced a secondary as good as Clark Lea’s to-date, so it will be interesting to see how effective Purdy can be against such a veteran, talented group. The Irish finished the regular season as the #3 passing defense overall, allowing only 164 yards per game through the air. They are also 3rd in the country in passing yards allowed per attempt (5.7), and 5th in QB rating allowed.
That effort, of course, has been led by the senior starters of Jalen Elliott, Alohi Gilman, Troy Pride Jr., and Shaun Crawford. Elliott (41 tackles, 2 PD, 2 INT) and Gilman (66 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT, 2 FF) have been extremely consistent at the starting safety spots, rarely letting opposing receivers behind them and also being excellent in run support. Meanwhile, despite losing Julian Love to the NFL, Pride (37 tackles, 5 PD, 1 INT) and Crawford (25 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT) have been very good for the the most part this season, locking receivers down when needed.
Add in sophomore corner TaRiq Bracy (32 tackles, 6 PD, 1 FF, 2 FR) and freshman safety Kyle Hamilton (39 tackles, 6 PD, 4 INT, 1 INT TD), and this group of Irish defensive backs has the talent to hang with any group of receivers.
What should be interesting on top of that, though, is whether the ND pass rush will be able to force Brock Purdy into some bad decisions. The Irish have been good but not elite in getting to the QB this season, tied for 41st in the country in sacks. However, this ND defense does an exceptional job of creating turnovers, as they are tied for 6th in turnovers gained, 2nd in fumbles forced, and 1st in fumbles recovered this year. Add in that they are a top-30 defense in tackles for loss and it is clear this front seven can get into the backfield and disrupt an offense.
Iowa State won’t be taking all that lying down, though, as the Cyclones enter this game tied for 7th in the country in sacks allowed with just 14 on the year. They’re also 8th in tackles for loss allowed, tied for 16th in fumbles lost (only 5), and tied for 26th in turnovers lost (14), so this definitely is an offense that takes care of the ball and does a good job limiting negative plays.
Will they be able to continue that trend against the likes of Khalid Kareem (5.5 sacks, 10 TFL, 9 QBH, 3 FF), Adetokunbo Ogundeji (3.5 sacks, 6 TFL, 4 QBH, 3 FF), and Jamir Jones (4.5 sacks, 6.5 TFL, 4 QBH, 2 FF)?
Will Irish linebackers like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (5.5 sacks, 9.5 TFL), Asmar Bilal (9 TFL), and Drew White (2 sacks, 8 TFL) be able to shoot gaps and make some big tackles for loss as well?
My money would be on them being able to do some damage back there for sure, just because the Cyclones offensive line isn’t exactly elite and hasn’t faced a front seven like Notre Dame’s yet this season. However, I also don’t think ND will be able to have a field day back there, especially without Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes. How often that group is able to get pressure and force bad decisions by a young QB will be critical, though, for how this match-up goes.
So, if the Irish can significantly slow down the Cyclone passing attack and/or disrupt Purdy’s drop-backs a good amount, Iowa State could be forced to rely a bit more on the run than most would expect from an offense like this.
Considering stopping the run is definitely the weaker part of the ND defense’s game, it might not be the worst strategy, but unfortunately Iowa State isn’t exactly tops in the nation in running the ball down people’s throats. The Cyclone rushing attack is 95th in the country (140.3 ypg) and 69th in yards per carry (4.4), led by a talented true freshman running back, Breece Hall.
Filling in for David Montgomery, who is now having a lot of success as a rookie running back for the Chicago Bears, Hall has had a very promising first season in Ames. He’s run for 842 yards on 5 yards per carry, scoring 9 touchdowns on the season. Add in backup RB Johnnie Lang’s 238 yards and 3 touchdowns on 4.8 yards per carry, plus Purdy’s contributions with his legs (265 yards, 8 rushing TD), and the Cyclones have some strong talent at the ball carrier positions.
Their line, though, is definitely not elite, which explains the mediocre overall numbers for the ISU rushing offense. And, despite the Irish’s pedestrian run-stopping numbers (70th in rush defense, 51st in yards per rush allowed), I do think the middle of the ND defense has plenty of talent and ability to contain Hall and the Cyclone running game.
It will start with the defensive tackles — Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Kurt Hinish, and Jayson Ademilola. The three of them have been surprisingly good in the middle of the defensive line after the losses of Jerry Tillery and Jonathan Bonner from 2018, combining for 59 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 11 TFL, and 8 QBH this year.
If that trio, along with promising freshman Jacob Lacey, are able to hold the point of attack and maybe even collapse the middle of the Cyclone line on occasion, it will go a long way toward making the lives of the Irish linebackers much easier.
The starting group of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Drew White, and Asmar Bilal was considered a liability early on in this 2019 season, but that trio has quickly turned into one of the most reliable units on the whole ND football team. White leads the team in tackles with 75 (8 TFL), and the other two are not far behind the sure-tackling junior.
Bilal has 72 tackles and 9 TFL on the year, and Owusu-Koramoah, the biggest question mark entering the season, has proven to be a FANTASTIC athlete who can run sideline-to-sideline and contribute in coverage in a way that many linebackers could only dream of contributing. He’s got 70 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 4 passes defended, and 9.5 tackles for loss on the season.
With all of this said, it will be a lot of fun to watch this match-up. The Cyclones offense is high-powered and loves slinging it around the field, while the Irish defense is known for shutting down passing attacks and really limiting offenses’ production, considering they are 10th in yards allowed per play (4.68), 21st in total defense (324 ypg allowed), and 14th in scoring (18.7 ppg allowed).
I think the Iowa State offense will be able to score a bit in this one, but the Irish defense will make enough plays to give the ND offense the opportunity to take it to a not-elite Iowa State defense and win this thing on that side of the ball.
Offensive Cyclone to Watch
QB Brock Purdy
Iowa State is a team driven by their young, talented QB, who makes their offense move. Against easily his toughest test this weekend, he will need to be sharp, take care of the ball, and come up with a lot of big plays that force the Irish offense to keep up in a shoot-out. How Purdy performs should determine much of the outcome of this one.
Defensive Irish to Watch
DEs Khalid Kareem, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, and Jamir Jones
We all know the ND secondary is one of the best in the country, but no secondary can cover receivers forever. The Irish NEED to get pressure on Purdy and force him into some mistakes, as the Irish have found their best success when forcing turnovers and giving the Irish offense extra opportunities to score, considering that unit’s tendency to stall at times. How these three get pressure on Purdy and force him into tough spots will go a long way in the Irish securing their 11th victory of the season.
Best Names in the Game
- Iowa State PK Connor Assalley
- Notre Dame RB C’Borius Flemister
- Notre Dame LS Axel Raarup
- Notre Dame S Litchfield Ajavon
- Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble
- Iowa State LB Coal Flansburg
- Iowa State DB Answer Gaye
- Iowa State QB Re-al Mitchell
- Iowa State QB Brock Purdy
- Notre Dame DL Hunter Spears
- Iowa State TE Skylar Loving-Black
- Iowa State OL Julian Good-Jones
- Iowa State LB Chandler Pulvermacher
- Iowa State DB Kym-Mani King
- Notre Dame LB Ovie Oghoufo
- Notre Dame DE Nana Osafo-Mensah
- Notre Dame CB Temitope Agoro
- Notre Dame DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji
- Iowa State WR La’Michael Pettway
- Iowa State WR Joseph Scates
- Iowa State TE Gage Gunnerson
- Iowa State OL Will Clapper
- Iowa State WR Daric Whipple
- Notre Dame RB Jafar Armstrong
- Iowa State LB O’Rien Vance
- Iowa State DE Eyioma Uwazurike
- Iowa State DB Benjamin Dunkleberger
- Iowa State RB Kene Nwangwu
- Iowa State DB Jaeveyon Morton
- Iowa State WR Beau Coberly
1. “Cyclone” by Baby Bash ft. T-Pain
2. Hurricanes, the alcoholic beverage
3. Anticyclones (apparently this is a high-pressure system and thus the opposite of a cyclone?)
4. Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL hockey team)
5. Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team, short-season A affiliate of NY Mets
6. Cyclone AKA Maxine Hunkel (DC Comics superhero)
7. Iowa State Cyclones
Last. Actual cyclones, i.e. tropical storms (also known as Hurricanes or Typhoons)
Camping World: A Roller Coaster Tycoon Masterpiece
It’s no Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, but I am truly enjoying that the Irish are playing in something called the Camping World Bowl, only because “Camping World” sounds like a ridiculous amusement park from the same people who brought us Glove World in Spongebob.
So, with that said, I’d like to spend roughly 3 minutes outlining what I would build in the PC game Roller Coaster Tycoon if I were instructed to build “Camping World.”
DISCLAIMER: Like most people, playing games where I can essentially play God like Roller Coaster Tycoon (or games like The Sims) brings out some homicidal tendencies in me, particularly in constructing dangerous coasters and in punishing park guests who do not enjoy my park and submit complaints about it. Consider yourself warned, this will not be warm and fuzzy.
- Camping World will be a lovely theme park situated on a lake and with plenty of forest-area within it, giving everyone that outdoorsy feel while still being an amusement park and not truly out in the wilderness
- Rides/Attractions will include the following: Pitching Tents, Trying to Start Fires, Cooking “Hobo Dinners” Over Open Flames, “Hiking” Aimlessly, Getting Lost, Complaining About Being Outside, Smashing the Guitar of the Person Who Brought a Guitar for the Campfire, Spooky Ghost Stories, and a Log Flume ride
- Once I get enough guests inside my park, I will block the exits, as is tradition. Everyone is in Camping World for the long haul
- Camping World has no formal hotel/resort/lodging. Instead, people will be given sleeping bags and told to sleep “wherever the wolves aren’t”
- Camping World has no bathrooms. Normally I would have bathrooms but charge guests to use them, but at Camping World, the world is your bathroom!!!!!
- In normal Roller Coaster Tycoon scenarios, I would use the Tweezers to pick up any guests complaining about my park and drop them in the lake. However, to keep with my Camping World theme, complaining guests will instead be impaled on skewers and roasted over a bonfire, then put on top of huge graham crackers with some chocolate
That’s it!!! Please let me know in the comments what I should add to the Camping World experience, or just share fun stories as to how you would torture park guests in Roller Coaster Tycoon.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Iowa State Defense
On the other side of the ball, we have the less exciting of the two major match-ups in this Camping World Bowl.
The ND offense has been pretty good overall this year, but has certainly had its fair share of flaws and, of course, just lost its offensive coordinator in Chip Long, who was not retained by ND and who’s had many reports come out about how much the players disliked playing for him.
Despite that near-mutiny that was apparently forming on the offensive side, the Irish offensive unit finished the season ranked 20th in SP+ and 13th in scoring while also playing a big part in the team finishing 4th in the country in turnover margin, considering the offense was tied for 6th in turnovers lost (just 11 on the year).
Iowa State, meanwhile, is just 72nd in the country in turnover margin, and that is mostly because of their defense’s inability to create turnovers. The Cyclones are 112th in the country in turnovers gained (just 13), 111th in interceptions (only 6), 51st in fumbles forced, and tied for 68th in fumbles recovered.
So, the Irish offense shouldn’t have to worry too much about taking care of the ball any more than they usually would, and instead can focus on finishing drives and scoring enough points to out-shoot an offense adept at competing in shoot-outs.
That kind of effort, of course, will start with QB Ian Book, who had plenty of issues early/mid-year before having himself a very nice November against the final third of the Irish schedule.
On the year, Book has thrown for 2,787 yards, 33 touchdowns, and just 6 interceptions, proving at the very least that he can keep things clean in terms of turnovers and also drive plenty of point-scoring. However, Book also completed less than 60% of his passes on the season (a 9 percentage-points decrease from his 68% mark in 2018) and averaged just 7.5 yards per attempt, which is tied for a very mediocre 61st-best in the nation.
Still, what Book is able to do with both his arm and his feet (516 rushing yards and 4 TD on 5.4 ypc this year) makes this offense go, and so how he fares against a Cyclone defense that is 22nd in the SP+ but not particularly great at any one thing will be interesting to see.
In the passing game, the Cyclones are pretty solid, considering they are 25th in passing yards allowed per attempt (6.6). Their #69 ranking in overall pass defense likely stems more from the pass-heavy conference they play in than their inability to defend the pass.
With that said, the Irish receivers are pretty damn good and will be a very difficult test for a defense that didn’t exactly shut down the best offenses it faced (although how almost any defense is expected to “shut down” that Oklahoma offense is beyond me).
Chase Claypool will be the focus of the Cyclones secondary, as the senior has been sensational in his final season in South Bend, snaring 59 passes for 891 yards and 12 touchdowns. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the 6’4” freak of an athlete eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the season in this one, and potentially add a couple touchdowns to his total as well. Senior Justin Bickham (23 tackles, 1 PD) is the only contributing Cyclone DB who is over 6’0” tall, so Claypool’s size and leaping ability will certainly come in handy in this match-up.
The same goes for junior tight end Cole Kmet, whose 41 catches for 482 yards and 6 touchdowns don’t begin to describe how much of a match-up nightmare he is for both defensive backs and linebackers, considering his massive frame and surprising speed and fluidity.
Safeties Lawrence White and Braxton Lewis are too of the better players on this Iowa State defense, and so they will certainly be doing their best to match up with big receivers like Claypool and Kmet. White is 2nd on the team in tackles with 82, adding 4 passes defended, 2 interceptions, and 4 tackles for loss to the equation. Lewis, meanwhile, has 61 tackles of his own to go with 4 passes defended, a fumble recovery, and a pick of his own.
Those two lead a secondary that includes other key cover guys like Greg Eisworth (60 tackles, 10 PD, 1 INT) and Anthony Johnson (57 tackles, 10 PD, 6 TFL, 2 FF, 2 sacks), who will look to continue to rack up their passes defended totals (20th in the country in that stat) and keep the Irish offense from stringing together a bunch of first-down throws and picking up momentum.
Other ND receivers who will be looking to do some damage against this Cyclone secondary include Chris Finke (35 rec, 410 yds, 4 TD) playing his final game in an Irish uniform, Javon McKinley (11 rec, 268 yds, 4 TD) playing the final game of his senior season before a 5th year decision this off-season, and young, dynamic guys like Braden Lenzy (10 rec, 247 yds, 2 TD), Tommy Tremble (15 rec, 174 yds, 4 TD), and Lawrence Keys III (13 rec, 134 yds) looking to finish off very strong sophomore seasons.
Lenzy, especially, will be fun to watch in this one, as his fantastic speed has finally started to be utilized more effectively in the second half of this season, and thus he’s constantly a threat to take one to the house, considering his 24.7 yards-per-catch average and his ability running the ball as well (188 yds, 2 TD, 18.8 yards per carry).
He won’t be the only guy the Cyclones will need to worry about in the running game, though, as we’ve already mentioned what Book can do with his feet, and Tony Jones Jr. quietly had a very strong year as the surprise #1 guy. TJJ finished the year with 722 yards and 5 touchdowns while averaging a HEALTHY 5.4 yards per carry and also chipping in via the passing game, catching 13 passes for 103 yards and another touchdown.
C’Bo Flemister and Jahmir Smith also had nice little seasons as backup running backs and occasional short-yardage/red zone situational guys, combining for another 312 yards and 7 touchdowns on 3.7 yards per carry.
The Cyclones front seven is good but not exceptional, sitting at 35th in overall rushing defense (133.8 ypg allowed) and 47th in yards allowed per rush (3.84). The key names to know here are the linebackers, who are all strong tacklers and do a good job of getting into the backfield and forcing negative plays. Marcel Spears Jr. leads the team with 85 tackles on the year and has 8 tackles for loss. He’s joined by guys like Mike Rose (69 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1 FF), O’Rien Vance (61 tackles, 9 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR) and Jake Hummel (30 tackles, 4 TFL).
On the front line, the ND offensive line will hope to get a nice push against the likes of defensive linemen Ray Lima (26 tackles), Jamahl Johnson, Will McDonald (6 TFL), and Matt Leo (5.5 TFL), as well as defensive ends Zach Petersen (41 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2 FF), and Eyioma Uwazurike (27 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 FR, 1 FR TD).
In terms of rushing the passer, don’t expect a team like Iowa State to get to a mobile QB who doesn’t take many sacks like Ian Book, especially considering the Cyclones are 60th in the country in sacks. With that said, the linebackers are really a big source of the Iowa State pass rush, as Vance has 6.5 sacks and 8 QB hurries on the season and Spears Jr. and Rose have combined for another 5 sacks on the year. Petersen (2 sacks) and Uwazurike (1.5 sacks, 4 QBH) may play a role in the pass rush as well.
Even with the right side of the Irish line being guys who didn’t start the season as #1 on the depth chart, I wouldn’t expect Ian Book to face too much pressure. The Cyclones might send a little more than usual due to Book’s tendency to abandon the pocket quickly under pressure, but the Cyclones’ defensive scheme is much more comprised of that secondary and the linebackers focused on covering pass-heavy offenses and knocking passes down than it is built around dialing up lots of QB pressure.
Overall, Iowa State’s defense is pretty good in some areas, but haven’t been great in terms of limiting scoring (51st in the country, allowing 25.3 ppg), overall offensive production (42nd, allowing 362 ypg), or even yards per play (37th, allowing 5.23 YPP). Considering their inability to force turnovers, I just can’t see them doing enough defensively to shut down the Irish offense. Instead, I think this game comes down to how much Iowa State is able to score on the ND defense, and whether or not the Irish offense can do enough to overcome that.
With Tommy Rees set to call the plays for the first time ever as the ND QB coach, it should be pretty fun to watch that unit try to outscore one of the better offenses in the country. Rees could coach his way into the permanent OC role with a fantastic offensive performance in this game, and considering the opponent and the Irish talent available (ND finished 13th in the country in scoring offense, if you’ll recall), the stage is definitely set for that if he can pull the right strings and call a better game than Chip Long was able to the past few years.
Defensive Cyclone to Watch
DB Anthony Johnson
The Iowa State secondary is going to need to be FANTASTIC against receivers like Claypool and Kmet and Lenzy, and so it will be key that Johnson, as one of the best cover guys on the team and a guy who racks up passes defended, continues to bring that kind of coverage and deny the Irish the ability to put together the momentum-building, methodical drives that they love to put together.
Offensive Irish to Watch
WR Chase Claypool
In his last-ever ND game, I expect Claypool to put on a show and want to go out with a bang in what could end up being an offensive-minded shootout. With Rees at the helm of the offense, look for Claypool to be targeted early and often and for the future NFL draft pick to have himself a wonderful swan song.
There’s really only one thing I NEED to mention here, and that is that Iowa State’s kicker is named Connor Assalley.
CONNOR. ASS. ALLEY.
Assalley is a solid kicker (49-for-51 on extra points, 12-for-16 on field goals this year) but an even better name, and so we all need to pay our respects to this wonderful young man.
Meanwhile, ND has Jonathan Doerer, who makes up for his inferior name with more impressive stats, considering he is 54-for-54 on extra points and 13-for-16 on field goals, including 6-of-8 from 40+ yards with a long field goal this year of 52. The dude has been fantastic, plain and simple.
ISU is 77th in the SP+ special teams rankings, while ND is 39th. So take that piece of likely useless info and run with it, if you please.
Alright, Let’s Predict the Result of This One
Notre Dame 34, Iowa State 27
I don’t think the Irish will completely shut down Brock Purdy and that Cyclone offense, but I also think Clark Lea’s defense will be able to get stops/force turnovers much more often than the Iowa St. defense will be able to against the Irish offense. Tom Rees’ offense looks very good but not exceptional in the win, likely earning him the OC job, and the Irish finish 11-2 and Camping World Bowl champs!!!!!