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Kelly breaks down Iowa State following Camping World Bowl announcement

| Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Irish football head coach Brian Kelly held a press conference Sunday after Notre Dame’s matchup with Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl was announced. Kelly gave his initial analysis of Iowa State, and commented on playing a team from the Big-12 — something the Irish haven’t done since playing Texas in 2016.

“I mean, they’re all good,” Kelly said. “Obviously the reputation is well-earned. This is a really good football team that could easily be 11-1. They’ve got an outstanding [sophomore] quarterback in Brock Purdy. I haven’t watched them on film. We don’t have any crossover games with them. We played Oklahoma, obviously, in the Big 12, so we have a great understanding of the caliber of football that they play week in and week out. Explosive on offense. I think they set a school record for points and touchdowns and total offense this year. We know what we’re getting.”

Kelly discussed his familiarity with Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock.

Annie Smierciak | The Observer
Irish senior wide receiver Chase Claypool runs along with the play during Notre Dame’s 45-24 win over Stanford at Stanford Stadium on Nov. 30.

“Outstanding football coach — great background, very successful,” Kelly said. “Yeah, very much aware of the system and structure that he wants to run defensively. Does a great job. He’s been very consistent with the kind of defensive philosophy. He can play three down, four down, drop eight. He’s got a little bit of everything defensively that he can employ. He does a great job of utilizing the personnel. If he loses a lot of guys, he can come back the next year with young players and keep the scheme simple.”

An interesting dynamic in this matchup is Notre Dame’s pass defense against Iowa State’s passing attack. The Irish are third in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (163.7), fourth in yards per pass attempt allowed (5.74) and eighth in passing yards allowed per completion. Iowa State is ninth in the nation in passing yards per game with 318.3. Purdy himself is 19th in the FBS in passing touchdowns with 27, fifth in passing yards per game with 313.3 and fourth with 3760 total on the season.

“I think we forced the ball out of the quarterback’s hands very well,” Kelly said. “Our pass-rush has been very consistent. I think when you look at those things, they have many components. The second component is the way that we’re structured defensively. We’re a top-down defense in that we’re going to keep the ball in front of us. I think we do a pretty good job with our safeties, making sure that they’re staying over the top. I think we do a really good job of tackling. Tackling is important. Limiting those yards after catches, I think we’ve been really, really good at that.”

One area that has plagued the Irish down the stretch has been their lackluster running game, evidenced by senior quarterback Ian Book leading the Irish in rushing in four straight games, starting with a 21-20 win over Virginia Tech and culminating with a 40-7 victory over Boston College. Kelly explained why the team has struggled on the ground.

“Remember, we have two very good offensive linemen that have been out for most of the year,” he said. “We’re still in the middle of the pack in the country. We’re probably doing as well as we can, given the circumstances. We ran the ball when we wanted to run the ball this year — that’s a big deal. When we needed to run clocks out, when we needed to run the football, we ran it when we wanted to. That’s the mark of a good running game. Do we want to be more consistent? Absolutely. Do we want to have bigger opportunities in the running game with explosive plays? We certainly do. But some of that was an injury to [junior running back Jafar Armstrong, who] we thought would be a little bit more explosive, and he looked a little bit better against Stanford. So I think those things are coming together for us.”

Whereas the Irish honed in on working with their starters in anticipation of their Cotton Bowl matchup against Clemson, Kelly said they would use the time ahead of the Camping World Bowl to evaluate and work with their players to build a solid foundation for next season.

“I just think from our perspective, the young receivers need to continue to get some work,” Kelly said. “I think when you’re talking about our defensive backs, some of the young defensive backs, guys that have not played a lot, continue to get work for them. You’re looking at — in particular — the position areas where there’s going to be younger players needed to step in next year. We’ll craft and articulate areas where, for example, a senior won’t play his position but we’ll put a young guy in that position and see how he handles himself with some other veterans around him.”

The team’s strategy involves not putting “a whole bunch of young guys” in the game immediately, Kelly asserted.

“We’ll have a day where [senior receiver] Chase Claypool is not playing, but maybe [sophomore wide receiver] Kevin Austin is in there with [graduate student slot receiver] Chris Finke and [sophomore wide receiver] Braden Lenzy,” Kelly said. “Or we’ll have one of the younger freshmen D-linemen in there. That’s kind of how we like to put them out there to evaluate where they are in the program.”

While the Irish suffered a blowout loss to Michigan that dashed their College Football Playoff hopes in late October, they finished the season emphatically with five wins, four of them by at least 21 points. Even so, sitting at 10-2, the Irish haven’t made any headway in the playoff rankings since falling to No. 15 after the loss to Michigan.

Kelly addressed his team’s motivation facing a 7-5 Iowa State team in a non-New Years’ Six Bowl.

“I think it’s like anything else, you want to finish on a win,” Kelly said. “I don’t know if 11 has any magical number to it other than the consistency of performance for our players. We’ve won 10 or more games over the last three years. We want to just continue that, as I mentioned earlier, standard of play. Again, 11 wins is certainly an outstanding football season. We want to finish on a great note. But we won’t be defined by any one game in particular.”

When all is said and done, Kelly said he’s glad his players get another opportunity to take the field together — especially for the guys leaving after this season.

“Again, I think more than anything else, it’s getting one more chance for these guys to play with their brothers and enjoy the game, enjoy the opportunity to be in Orlando [as] part of the Camping World Bowl,” Kelly said.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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