Saturday’s Camping World Bowl matchup against the Iowa State Cyclones is where the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be ending their 2019 season. Needless to say, Brian Kelly and his squad would much rather have been playing in either Atlanta or Tempe on Saturday, but two losses during the regular season have sent them to Orlando instead.
The Irish enter with a record of 10-2, compared to the Cyclones’ misleading 7-5 mark. Iowa State dropped three games by two points or less, with their 42-41 defeat to Playoff participant Oklahoma coming in the final minute that ended a furious rally.
For this battle, here are matchups to watch:
QB Ian Book vs. Iowa State Defense
Book not only threw for 33 touchdowns and nearly 2,800 yards but also finished with 537 yards on the ground. That latter category was something that kept the staggering running game going, while he kept his interceptions to a minimum with all six coming in three games. Two years ago in Orlando, he made a name for himself in the Citrus Bowl comeback win over LSU and could have an even better effort here.
The Iowa State defense has several holes that can be exploited by Book, though they generally rate as a middle-of-the-pack unit. Their run defense had their issues during the second half of the season, with Book’s mobility undoubtedly something they’ll have to keep in check, while their pass defense only managed six picks on more than 400 pass attempts.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Brock Purdy
The pass rush of Notre Dame has delivered some strong performances in 2019, but they’ll have a challenge in this contest. That’s because opposing defenders only sacked Iowa State 13 times during the season, which means that bringing the heat in this area would help make victory a bit easier to achieve.
In just his second season behind center for the Cyclones, Purdy threw for 3,760 yards and 27 touchdowns. He was also precise in his throwing, completing two-thirds of his 445 attempts and only throwing nine picks. He’s mobile enough to have scored eight times on the ground, and his performances haven’t waned when facing a quality opponent like the Irish.
WR Chase Claypool vs. CB Anthony Johnson
Claypool has done everything expected of him, with another strong outing no doubt helping his chances in April’s NFL draft. He leads the Irish with 59 catches on the year and has reached the end zone 12 times, becoming Book’s go-to receiver. His size and speed give Notre Dame a deep threat who can open up the shorter routes for his fellow wideouts.
Johnson is the best part of what is a weak secondary, though he has compiled 57 tackles on the year and has the athletic ability to have made six stops behind the line. His six-foot frame has allowed him to knock away ten opposing passes this year and he’s also forced a pair of fumbles, but he’s going to have his hands full with Claypool, especially since he’s giving up five inches in what figure to be plenty of battles for the ball.
ILB Drew White vs. RB Breece Hall
After seeing much of his Notre Dame career blunted by injuries, White emerged as a stopper in the middle and concluding the regular season with 75 tackles. That total includes eight stops behind the line, though his top effort came with his 11 tackles in the debacle at Michigan. Still, he needed to step up this season after the Irish lost Tevon Coney and Drew Tranquill and he’s been more than up to the task.
In the first month of Hall’s first season with the Cyclones, he was largely non-existent, but he eventually emerged as Iowa State’s top ballcarrier in their pass-friendly offense. He has 842 yards entering this contest, having broken the 100-yard barrier and narrowly missing it a fifth time. His top effort came on a 183-yard performance against Texas Tech, though he did rack up 110 against Oklahoma.
RB Tony Jones, Jr. vs. LB Marcel Spears Jr.
After the season’s first six games, Jones had gained 557 yards but has only gained a total of 165 yards in his past five contests. That coincides with the rib injury he suffered against Michigan, so if he’s still struggling, the Irish do have other options like Jafar Armstrong, Jahmir Smith or Avery Davis, who will need to step up.
From the weakside, Spears leads the Cyclones with 85 tackles, including 8.5 behind the line. While his size isn’t ideal at 6-feet, he does manage to get to the ball and also has five pass deflections to his credit. The best strategy may just be to batter him with fresh legs all afternoon.