Sometimes this column is tough to write. In fact, it’s usually good for us when it’s tough to write. When it’s easy to find five things I didn’t like in a game, it usually means things didn’t go well for our Irish. Saturday was not one of those games. Notre Dame beat up on Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl and beat a team that had lost all of its games this year by a combined 21 points, by 24 points alone. The Irish capped off the season the best they could in the situation they were in. So let’s try and find some things that I didn’t like in a game that was otherwise really damn likable.
In Tommy Rees’s first game calling plays, he did some good things with the Notre Dame offense. He stuck with the running game, and he manufactured a rushing game that was pretty lifeless the last month and a half of the season. He also did something really simple that was super effective – he fed the ball to his best playmaker, Chase Claypool.
For all the good, though, the redzone offense left a little to be desired. Notre Dame made four trips into the redzone and did score all four times, so that was positive, but they only scored touchdowns on two of those trips and had to settle for chip shot field goals from Jonathan Doerer on the other two occasions.
Against Iowa State, it didn’t matter much, but again a better opponent, settling for field goals could mean the difference between winning and losing. It’s also not like the Cyclones have a stout defense. They don’t. Overall the offense was pretty good in the bowl game, but since it was a stretch to find five things I didn’t like in this game, this one came to mind first.
Brian Polian worked wonders with Jonathan Doerer this year. No one, and I mean no one, expected Doerer to be 17 of 20 and perfect on extra points this year; but he was. His next off-season project will be getting more out of a freshman Jay Bramblett. The true frosh looked like he tired out a bit down the stretch this season, and his performance in the Camping World Bowl wasn’t on the same level as what we saw earlier this year.
Bramblett punted four times on Saturday for an average of just 37.8 yards with no kicks inside the 20 and one touchback. Not terrible, but not great either. A couple of those punts were more line drives that could have turned into big returns had it not been for some excellent coverage. Bramblet has a bright future for Notre Dame but will need a big off-season to really tap into his potential in 2020.
Lack of third-down efficiency on offense
Like the red-zone offense, Notre Dame’s third-down efficiency left a lot to be desired. Notre Dame converted on just 3 of 13 third-down opportunities on Saturday against Iowa State. That’s pretty poor production. Notre Dame mitigated some of their third-down futility by converted on two of two fourth-down attempts, but it’s tough to win big games when you convert on just 3 of 13 third-downs.
Part of this probably falls back on Tommy Rees calling plays for the first time and facing Iowa State’s 3-5-3 defense that is relatively unique in terms of the looks the Irish were seeing on offense. If Rees is ultimately named the offensive coordinator to replace Chip Long, he is going to need to get much better production out of this offense on third downs.
Lack of carries for C’bo Flemister
If Jonathan Doerer was the surprise impact player of the season, Jafar Armstrong was on the opposite end of the spectrum. It looked like the offense was going to be funneled through Armstrong for the first few minutes of the season until he got hurt. After missing a month, he was back on the field, but we never saw the running back we all expected to see in 2020 even after his return. That was evident again on Saturday when Armstrong ran for just eight yards on eight carries.
C’bo Flemister, on the other hand, has run hard every opportunity he got in 2019 and has shown promise. The problem was he didn’t get that many opportunities, and that was the case again on Saturday. Flemister averaged 5,0 yards per carry but got just six carries – most of them coming in the fourth quarter in garbage time.
Flemister has three years of eligibility remaining entering 2020, so there is still plenty of time for Flemister to make his mark, but I would have liked to see him get some more play in the bowl game.
No more Notre Dame football games for nine months
This is the easiest one, but the worst part of the bowl game was the simple fact that it was the last Notre Dame football game that we get to watch until Labor Day – no, I’m not counting the Blue-Gold Game in that. We can all be disappointed that Notre Dame didn’t make the playoffs and played in a lower-tier bowl even though they had ten regular-season wins, but at the end of the day, this team won 11 games and ended the season on a six-game winning streak.
If you are lucky enough to follow an NFL team that made the playoffs – sorry Cowboy fans – you at least have another week (and maybe more) of meaningful football that you have a rooting interest in to watch. If you don’t, there are nine long months without any Notre Dame football. Oh, by the way, Fly Eagles, Fly!
The 2019 Fighting Irish didn’t get where we hoped they would, but Saturday was the last time we got to see the likes of Khalid Kareem, Jalen Elliott, Alohi Gilman, and Chase Claypool play for the Fighting Irish. Good luck to them all as they pursue their NFL dreams. They left it all on the field for Notre Dame and leave with a rock solid legacy in place.