There’s corn in Iowa, you see.
What’s Their Deal?
As many have noted in the run-up to this game, this is a tough draw for the Irish in that the Cyclones juuust managed to finish above .500 but also played a handful of very good football teams to the wire. Head coach Matt Campbell has a chance to prove himself
against his future employer against a big name program and guide ISU to their third eight-win season in a row. Notre Dame hasn’t faced a quarterback as good as Brock Purdy (only a sophomore) since probably Kedon Slovis all the way back in October. He’s got a veteran offensive line (more adept in pass protection than on the ground) in front of him, and passed for the most single-season touchdowns and yards ever by an Iowa State quarterback, breaking Seneca Wallace’s record (remember him?) by more than 500 yards. Purdy has plenty of weapons to choose from in the passing game, including freshman RB Breece Hall, who totaled over 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
For as good as the defense generally is at limiting scoring, it is inexplicably bad at stopping teams on third and long, often losing contain on the quarterback, and allowing him to pick up the first down on the ground, or make a long completion on a broken play.
The young Cyclones have continued to be stout in stopping the inside running game, but have in been inconsistent in maintaining run fits as runs are stretched further and further to the edge. If Notre Dame can create leverage on the edge and get their running back to the outside, they’ll have the opportunity to control tempo and force the Cyclone defense to create turnovers, something they haven’t done well for most of the season.
More on that later, but the bottom line is that this is a defense that finished Big 12 play ranked in the top 25 nationally in SP+, obviously no small feat. They’re not world beaters but were one of the best defenses in their conference and will provide a test for ND’s newly rearranged offensive brain trust.
One Scary Man: TE Charlie Kolar
Kolar is one of the best tight ends in the country, as evidenced by his selection as a second-team AP All-American. His 7 receiving touchdowns lead the team, so he’s clearly someone to worry about in the red zone (where the Irish defense has not been particularly good to date). If you ask me, it’s time for another big performance from ya boi Kyle Hamilton.
A Few Things I Hate About You
- This would’ve been a considerably more exciting matchup if the Cyclones could have beaten even one of those ranked teams they narrowly fell to, but instead ND will gain next to no national credibility if they take care of business here, and will certainly be clowned if they take an L from a 7-win team. Love a good lose-lose situation.
- Too flat. Get some hills, Iowa.
- I’m barely over that brutal 2013 March Madness loss, which happened on my birthday of all days. Rude!
- The school athletic moniker is the Cyclones, but the teams are inexpelicably represented by a mascot that’s a bird? Presumably one that can turn into a cyclone, for some reason? It just doesn’t track, and I refuse to do any further research.
- Busch Light is simply not a good beer. Sorry but you know it’s true.
What to Expect
The Cyclones will lean heavily on Purdy and the passing game, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make a considerable effort to establish the run as well. They rushed for 195 yards in a heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma, but in their four other defeats, they averaged just 73 yards on the ground. The degree to which Clark Lea can force them to become one-dimensional is one of the more important subplots of this matchup, so it’s certainly helpful that Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has been cleared for action. They’ve got plenty of talent at receiver and tight end, so a scheme similar to the one showed against USC’s offensive attack could be in play.
About those defensive weakness mentioned above: the Cyclones’ penchant for losing track of quarterbacks with decent scrambling ability bodes well for a continued emphasis on Ian Book’s legs, even if that’s mostly in an improvisational capacity. It may be tough sledding in the trenches for the Notre Dame ground game (although Aaron Banks is back), so look for the Irish to do their best to mitigate those struggles with a continued emphasis on gives around the edge to Braden Lenzy and crew. The Irish are one of the best in the nation at not giving the ball away, but it remains to be seen how sharp they’ll look after the break.
There’s certainly a question of motivation here, as Notre Dame followed up a playoff appearance with double digit wins and was rewarded with a bowl and opponent that carry with them essentially zero prestige. The departure of a coordinator before a postseason game in the wake of a season that was by and large successful is ostensibly another concern, but let’s flip the coin and posit that Chip Long’s dismissal will open things up and provide added incentive to build momentum heading into the offseason. Tommy Rees and Lance Taylor will be motivated to prove they can handle the added responsibility, and I believe their guys will be motivated to get the job done for them.
State’s passing attack is concerning, particularly when you consider the largely mediocre cadre of signal callers the Irish defense has faced this year, but we simply can’t bet against Clark Lea pulling out all the necessary stops like he did against Southern Cal. Bottom line, the Irish just have more talent across the board. Both teams bend, but ND breaks just a bit less, and secures its eleventh win by a margin of 31-24.
Play ’em Out
This is a, uh, tough one, so I’m going to plug one of my favorite TV title credit songs again. Season two of The Leftovers switched things up by using Iris DeMent’s “Let The Mystery Be,” which was a truly sublime touch if you’re familiar with the basic plot of the show. DeMent isn’t from Iowa, but she does apparently live there, which is good enough for me.