After a month with no Notre Dame football, the Irish are back in action tomorrow against Iowa State in the ever prestigious Camping World Bowl. It’s not the bowl game anyone wearing a gold helmet tomorrow wanted, but the Irish have a chance to record their 11th win of the season if they take care of business. Standing in their way is a dangerously scrappy Iowa State team that, despite five losses on the season, has given some really good teams absolute fits this year. So will the Irish get that 11th win or will the Irish overlook the Cyclones and end the year with a late December bowl loss for the second year in a row?
What Worries Me This Week
Notre Dame sleepwalking through a mid-tier bowl. There’s been a lot of chatter on Twitter this week about Notre Dame not practicing that well and not taking this game seriously, so I am listing this here as a concern for this week, but I also think this might be getting very overblown. Brian Kelly is not dumb when it comes to what he says to the media. He knew that if he said the team wasn’t practicing well and maybe had too much fun earlier in the week that it would become a story, and people would run with it. Perhaps Kelly is channeling his inner Lou Holtz here by using this to motivate his team further this week.
Still, the concern of Notre Dame not taking this game as seriously as Iowa State has been a worry since day one since Notre Dame had playoff aspirations and would likely be in a New Year’s 6 bowl almost any other year with ten wins.
Iowa State’s unique defensive alignment. Iowa State features a 3-5-3 or a 3-3-5 defense (depending on who you ask). Kelly described it as a 3-5-3 this week. Either way, it’s something new that Notre Dame hasn’t faced this year, so it’ll be new to everyone, including quarterback Ian Book and first-time play-caller Tommy Rees, who is filling in for the departed Chip Long.
It could take Notre Dame some time to adjust to what Iowa State is doing – especially because they are very likely to give Notre Dame some looks that Notre Dame hasn’t seen on film giving all of the time they’ve had to prepare. I do think that Notre Dame will eventually find its groove offensively and put up points, but we could have another slow start offensively.
Mistakes costing Notre Dame. This is one of those games where Notre Dame can beat itself if they are not careful. Iowa State is 7-5, but they’ve lost a lot of close games, and they’ve hung with some pretty good teams like Baylor, Iowa, and playoff-bound Oklahoma. If Notre Dame plays sloppy with more false starts and doesn’t protect the football, this is a game that Notre Dame can easily lose.
We’ve seen Notre Dame play sloppy at times this year – most notably in Ann Arbor, but for the most part, those sloppy efforts have been away from Notre Dame Stadium and in more hostile environments. Given the level of excitement – or lack thereof – from Notre Dame fans, there will probably be more Iowa State fans in attendance tomorrow than Notre Dame fans. That could factor into whether or not we see some of those same mistakes.
One thing to consider as well though is that the clap cadence – which gave Notre Dame fits this year – might have left Notre Dame along with Chip Long earlier this month.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Tommy Rees calling plays. Tomorrow will be the first time Tommy Rees calls plays, and he’s doing it in a bowl game against a pretty good team. On the surface, that should have everyone worried. Rees is only six years removed from starting in the Pinstripe Bowl himself, and now he is calling plays for the Irish tomorrow.
I’m not worried for two reasons though: 1) Rees showed as a Notre Dame quarterback that he has a good feel for what a defense is trying to do and calling plays at the line based on the looks he got and 2) does anyone really think that is Rees struggles, and the offense is stalled that Brian Kelly won’t take over on the fly? I sure as heck don’t. Kelly isn’t going to sit back idly if Rees can’t get the Irish going. I don’t think he will have to, though. Touchdown Tommy has a big audition tomorrow, and he just might be ready for it.
Clark Lea scheming around Iowa State’s offense and Brock Purdy. During the regular season, we saw Clark Lea tweek his defense for the air raid attack of USC, the running focused attack of Virginia Tech, and then Navy’s triple-option. He aced all three of those tests. Now he’s had a month to prepare for a good offense with a quarterback who like Ian Book is smart but lacks a big arm.
At this point, no one should question Clark Lea when it comes to coming up with a good gameplan. I do not doubt that Lea will be ready for Iowa State tomorrow. One thing to keep in mind here as well is that Iowa State is one of the slowest starting teams in the country. If there is a knock on Lea, it’s that sometimes opponents can have success early before Lea adjusts and shuts them down.
Notre Dame’s defensive line could have itself a day tomorrow because Iowa State’s offensive line isn’t overly good. Look for Lea to rely on his defensive front to get pressure without a ton of blitzing and dropping into coverage and clogging throwing lanes on Purdy.
Notre Dame’s running game. Notre Dame struggled to run the ball at times this season, but going into tomorrow’s contest, they should be the healthiest they have been all season long at running back. Remember how good Tony Jones Jr looked running the ball against USC? Well, he’s had a month to rest up after getting banged up against Michigan and never looking the same.
Jafar Armstrong never got out of the starting block this year with an injury on the first drive of the year. We finally started to get a glimpse of what Armstrong could do on offense against Stanford, and I have a hunch that we’ll see Armstrong featured in the passing game a lot against that 3-5-3 alignment too. Iowa State has been susceptible to running towards the edges as well, so if Armstrong is finally back to full strength, he could have a big day. If not, look for C’bo Flemister to get more action than normal.
Players I’m Watching This Week
- Jafar Armstrong – Is he finally 100%, and if so, will we finally see the offense that Notre Dame envisioned running through Armstrong tomorrow?
- Chase Claypool – He’s got one last game in a Notre Dame uniform and one more chance to impress NFL scouts in a loaded NFL Draft class. Claypool can make himself a lot of money tomorrow by improving his draft stock.
- Ian Book – He hasn’t committed to coming back in 2020 yet – is tomorrow the last time we see him start for the Irish?
- Braden Lenzy – He really came on during the final month of the year, can he build on that in the bowl game and propel himself into the off-season?
- Kyle Hamilton – Something tells me that he gets his hands on a football – or two – tomorrow.
- Khalid Kareem – Tomorrow is set up as a great matchup for him. He could have a big day.
I’ve gone back and forth on this one the last week or so. On paper, Notre Dame should win this game. But on paper, Oklahoma should have beaten up on Iowa State too, and they barely survived to beat the Cyclones by just on point. A lot has been made of Kelly’s comments about Notre Dame not practicing well this week, but I think that is a media savvy head coach using the media to help get his message across to his team. I expect another slow start from Notre Dame, but in this case, they are playing another team that is prone to slow starts, so that should work in Notre Dame’s favor.
In the end, Notre Dame’s talent is going to win out and its starts will shine bright one last time in 2019.
Notre Dame 38, Iowa State 24