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Notre Dame defeats Iowa State 33-9 in the Camping World Bowl

| Saturday, December 28, 2019

ORLANDO — Whether Notre Dame fans like it or not, Camping World Stadium now belongs to the Irish. 

Returning to an Orlando bowl game for the second time in three years, the Irish (11-2) secured their 11th win of the season Saturday, besting Iowa State 33-9 in the Camping World Bowl. While lacking the theatrics of Ian Book’s late game heroics and Miles Boykin’s one-handed catch that lifted the Irish over LSU in the 2018 Citrus Bowl, Saturday’s game had its fair share of memorable performances.

The general consensus among fans leading up to this matchup was that despite being placed against a team that had taken Oklahoma and Baylor down to the wire on the road, the 10-win Irish were cheated by this bowl selection. However, come Saturday there were no signs of complacency or disappointment when graduate student Chris Finke and seniors Jalen Elliott, Alohi Gilman and Khalid Kareem stepped out to represent the Irish as captains.

We don’t control those things, so we don’t worry about those things,” head coach Brian Kelly said about the team’s response to not receiving an invitation to a New Year’s Six bowl. “We just keep playing.”

In its first drive under new offensive play-caller Tommy Rees, the Irish offense went three-and-out, forcing freshman punter Jay Bramblett to take the field less than a minute and a half into play. However, the experience of the special teams unit was on full display, as Gilman forced a fumble on the punt reception which was recovered by senior wide receiver Chase Claypool. Unable to capitalize on their second possession, the Irish elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-four, bringing on junior kicker Jonathan Doerer who knocked a 39-yard attempt through the uprights to give the Irish an early lead. 

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish junior kicker Jonathan Doerer winds up to kick the ball during Notre Dame’s 33-9 win over Iowa State at the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Florida.

Taking the field for the first time, the Irish defense didn’t remain there for long. With the Cyclones (7-6, 5-4 Big 12) finding their rhythm behind freshman running back Breece Hall, Notre Dame junior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah came up big, sacking Iowa State sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy and recovering the fumble. This time, Book made sure to get the Irish into the end zone. A 26-yard run by senior running back Tony Jones Jr. and a five-yard pass to Finke set the Irish up right outside the red zone. Just when it seemed like the Irish weren’t going to be able to convert with 17 yards to go on third down, Book found Claypool by the right pylon for a sprawling 24-yard touchdown catch. With a successful point after attempt by Doerer, the Irish extended their early lead to 10.

Heading into this matchup, there were a lot of question marks regarding the stability of the Irish offense, especially following the sudden departure of offensive coordinator Chip Long in early December. Despite a slow first drive, Kelly said he was generally pleased with the offense’s performance.

“Anytime you can go direct snap play action and hit a wide open tight end, I think that’s a unicorn today in college football,” he said. “You know, the ability to run the football downhill, synced up with play action, then the ability to spread the field, take shots down the field, get the ball into the right guy’s hands — [Claypool’s] hands, and find matchups that work for us — I thought the ball was spread evenly and then run effectively. … That’s an efficient offensive performance.”

With the clock winding down in the first quarter, Purdy started to mix up the offense, looking between Hall in the run game and Cyclones senior wide receiver La’Michael Pettway. Pettway put pressure on the Notre Dame secondary with back-to-back catches for 33 total yards. However, the offensive momentum for both teams stalled in the second quarter, with each unable to pick up a first down. The Cyclones eventually got on the board with about 10 minutes to play in the first half when redshirt junior kicker Connor Assalley hit a 41-yard field goal.

But with every punch the Cyclones landed, the Irish landed one of their own. A 29-yard kickoff return by sophomore receiver Braden Lenzy put the Irish in scoring position. When the offense went three-and-out, Doerer stepped up again, drilling a line drive 51-yard kick to push the Irish lead back to 10. 

But the Irish weren’t done scoring, and the offense was once again sparked by the energy of the defense. After the defensive line stuffed Hall on fourth-and-short, Book immediately got to work, hitting a wide-open Claypool deep in scoring territory. The wide receiver lunged to the end zone and was originally spotted a touchdown before the official review ruled he was down before breaking the plane. Sophomore Jafar Armstrong eventually scored off a sweeping run — his first of 2019, having battled injuries throughout the season. A successful extra point by Doerer and a 26-yard field goal by Assalley brought the half to a close as Notre Dame returned to the locker room up 20-6.

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish junior running back Jafar Armstrong carries the ball during Notre Dame’s 33-9 win over Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl on Saturday.

“We feed off each other, us and the defense. You know, they tell us they’re going to get us a stop, and then we have to go score for them,” Claypool said. “It’s give and take. I was happy we were able to put something on the board right after that [first] turnover and then continue that on. The defense kept giving us good field position, good confidence, because, you know, once we get a lead we can start opening up our playbook a little bit.”

Claypool, the Camping World Bowl MVP, collected 112 of his 146 receiving yards in the first half and become the ninth Notre Dame receiver with more than 1,000 yards in a season. While that certainly puts him into a conversation of elite receivers and playmakers, Claypool insists that his focus has never been on those milestones.

“It was definitely a goal I had, so it’s nice to kind of reach that goal,” he said. “But, you know, you don’t really play the game for statistics. So it’s nice, but I’m not going to remember getting to 1,000 yards this game. I’m just going to remember going out with these guys.”

While Claypool certainly gave Irish fans plenty to be entertained with, perhaps the most exciting play of the game came in the opening minutes of the second half when Jones Jr. found a gap in the line and busted down the left sideline for an 84-yard touchdown, setting a record for the longest touchdown in Camping Bowl history. The St. Petersburg, Florida, product certainly seemed to feel at home, rushing for 135 yards on 11 carries. 

According to Kelly, Saturday’s performance was simply the result of hard work and dedication on the part of Jones Jr. throughout his time at Notre Dame.

“It was the culmination of putting together a running plan that, you know, when you see it hit and then you see him go the distance because he’s been talked about as a guy that doesn’t have the ability to take you over the top,” Kelly said. “But he doesn’t really care about that stuff. He was just excited about the ability to, you know, run the ball today effectively. And he ran physical and did what he normally does: help us win.”

The Cyclones and Irish exchanged field goals, rounding out the third quarter with Notre Dame maintaining a 21-point lead.

With the game all but decided, fatigue was evident at the start of the fourth quarter, as both teams went three-and-out. The Irish eventually moved the ball 27 yards before calling Doerer back to the field to hit his fourth field goal of the afternoon. The 39-yarder secured the largest lead of the night, as the Irish won 33-9.

Saturday’s game marked the end of many key figures’ careers at Notre Dame. To Kelly, this senior class has shown great resilience. Having gone 4-8 their freshman season, he said he’ll always remember this team as a “special group.”

“They did not listen to what the naysayers had to say about them. The negative tone, the negative people out there. All they cared about was playing the game. It was clean. It was about competing, always looking to better themselves,” he said. “You just read this team wrong, and it’s just so satisfying that this group has been rewarded with 11 wins because they have thought only about their teammates and how they can work to get better each and every day. They overcame adversity, lived the life lessons of it. They’re not perfect. They never pretended to be perfect and never wanted to be, but always strived for excellence.”

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