Notre Dame capped off their 2019 season with their 11th win of the year thanks to a dominating performance in the Camping World Bowl over Iowa State. The 3.5 point underdog Cyclones had become a trendy upset pick in the last week, but the Irish jumped out to a ten-point first-quarter lead and never looked back in a 33-9 victory to give them at least 11 wins in back to back seasons for the first time in 20 years.
So much for Notre Dame practicing bad and being disinterested
There was a lot of chatter throughout the week on Twitter that Notre Dame was practicing poorly and wasn’t interested in being in Orlando playing a 7-5 opponent instead of being in a New Year’s 6 bowl. Well, after a three and out to start the game, senior Alohi Gilman forced a fumble on the ensuing punt that fellow senior Chase Claypool recovered. Any notion of Notre Dame’s players not wanting to be there should have been put to bed right then and there.
Notre Dame played its most complete game of the season, with all three units turning in sound performances. On offense, the Irish ran for 247 yards and passed for another 208. On defense, the Irish forced two turnovers and recorded four sacks while keeping an Iowa State team that averaged 34 points a game out of the endzone all day. On special teams, Jonathan Doerer connected on all four field goal attempts and was perfect on three extra points.
Iowa State lost five regular-season games by a combined 21 points this year. Notre Dame beat the Cyclones by 24. Ever since the Ian Book touchdown run against Virginia Tech, Notre Dame has been locked in and beating up on teams. That continued today despite all of those reported “bad practices.” I said in my preview article that all of those reports sounded more like a coach using the media to motivate his team, and after today, I think that to be even truer.
Tip of the cap to Brian Kelly and this staff for keeping this team focused on finishing the season strong despite the turmoil on the staff with Long’s dismissal and the less than desirable matchup.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is going to be a beast in 2020
Notre Dame’s defense was stifling today, and one of the major reasons why was junior ROVER Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He was all over the field against the Cyclones. He led Notre Dame 9 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and a career-high 3 sacks. He also forced and recovered a fumble on Iowa State’s second drive of the game right as the Cyclones were approaching the redzone.
JOK had some highs and lows in his first year as a starter, but Saturday was easily one of the highs for a player with a very bright future. Notre Dame’s defense next year should be in great shape in large part because of players like Owusu-Koramoah. Considering how raw JOK was coming in, it’s really exciting to think about what he might look like next year with a year of experience under his belt.
Tommy Rees did some nice things as a play-caller but…
Everyone was interested to see how Tommy Rees did in his first game calling plays, and overall, Rees did a pretty good job. He committed to running the football and even stuck with it when it wasn’t working early on. That commitment to the run paid off in the second half with Tony Jones Jr‘s 84-yard touchdown run.
Considering that Rees was calling plays for the first time while facing a fairly unorthodox 3-5-3 defense, Rees did a pretty good job. That said, Notre Dame would still be wise to look outside of the program for a full-time replacement to Chip Long at offensive coordinator. Notre Dame’s offense bogged down once it got in the redzone forcing the Irish to settle for those four field goals from Doerer. This game could have been even more lopsided if the Irish were able to convert more of those redzone opportunities into touchdowns.
Rees does have a very bright coaching future, but I think in an ideal world, Kelly hires someone outside the program to help elevate the offense while Kelly continues to groom Rees.
Notre Dame is going to miss Chase Claypool
Just like he did all November long, Chase Claypool dominated on Saturday. He made a couple more signature catches like his 24-yard first-quarter touchdown, where he displayed great body control and excellent ball skills. On the day, he hauled in 7 catches for 146 yards with that touchdown while being robbed of a second touchdown due to an inexplicable reversal from the replay booth. The play looked borderline but was called a touchdown on the field, and unless ABC didn’t have the same replay angles as the refs, it was hard to understand how it was overturned.
Regardless of the refs stealing a touchdown from Claypool, he was a dominate number one wide receiver for Notre Dame. Who steps up and replaces that production next year is a big question heading into the season. Kevin Austin seems like an obvious candidate assuming he can return from his suspension and play to his potential, but that isn’t a given.
With his performance on Saturday, Claypool likely moved himself up some draft boards. Once he gets to the combine and puts up some freaky numbers like Miles Boykin did last year, expect him to rocket up draft boards even more.
The Big 12 is a bad conference, and it’s not really debatable
Wow is the Big 12 pretty bad. Iowa State played every Big 12 team they faced tough but was lucky that they only lost by 24 points to the Irish. Clark Lea‘s defense shut down a Cyclone offense that put up a lot of points on some highly ranked teams, including 41 on Oklahoma. As we learned later today, though, Oklahoma was more than overmatched against LSU in the Peach Bowl. Oklahoma State lost to a five-loss Texas A&M team on Friday night. That is not a good look for a conference that has a reputation for playing terrible defense.
I already mentioned that all five of Iowa State’s losses this season came by a combined 21 points before they lost by 24 to Notre Dame today. This was a team that everyone wanted to describe as dangerous, but Notre Dame was never in any danger and was in complete control from start to finish.
The Big 12 has started bowl season 0-3 this year with three games remaining for its members – Baylor vs. Georgia, Texas vs. Utah, and Kansas State vs. Navy. It’s likely that they will finish 1-5, and with Oklahoma’s blowout loss, the conference still has zero wins combined in the Playoffs. Next time someone says a 1-loss Big 12 Champion should automatically get into the playoffs over say a 1-loss Notre Dame team, feel free to remind them how bad this conference is.
Tony Jones Jr’s long touchdown run was unexpected
I thought Notre Dame would have some success running the ball to the edges of the Iowa State defense, but I didn’t think Tony Jones Jr would be the back to take advantage, but there he was busting off an 84-yard touchdown run. While he didn’t quite conjure up memories of Josh Adams with his speed, he did with his grown-man stiff arm at the end of it to reach the endzone.
Jones ran the ball just 11 times, but he gained 135 yards with them to give him 857 yards on the season with six touchdowns. He averaged 5.95 yards a carry on the season as well thanks in part to his outburst today.
It was a weird year for him overall with today being his fifth 100-yard game of the season but his first since his career night against USC. Between then and today, Jones didn’t top 61 yards or 4.1 yards per carry in any one game. The month off clearly helped Jones rest up. He has a fifth year of eligibility remaining that he can use to come back in 2020 and today showed why there is definitely a role for him in 2020 if he wants to come back.
Dan Orlovsky was great in the booth for ABC
I love bringing up the announcers since it seems to really trigger some people, but today I have nothing but praise for Dan Orlovsky, who provided the color commentary for ABC. The former Detroit Lion quarterback has quickly become an up and coming football analyst. those skills translated well to the booth, where Orlovsky brought great energy and insight to the telecast.