ORLANDO, Fla. — So much for the notion that No. 14 Notre Dame didn’t have anything to play for in the Camping World Bowl.
A year removed from an appearance in the CFP national semifinals, the Fighting Irish closed out another double-digit win season with arguably their best all-around performance in a 33-9 victory over Iowa State on Saturday.
“I’m just so proud of our football team. 2019 will be one that I’ll always remember, for a group of guys that just loved to play the game. They had such a strong brotherhood,” coach Brian Kelly said.
“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,” Kelly added. “It was clean. It was about competing. Always looking to better themselves.”
Ian Book threw for 247 yards and a touchdown, Tony Jones Jr. scored on an 84-yard run and game MVP Chase Claypool had seven receptions for 146 yards and a TD for the Irish (11-2, No. 15 CFP), who finished on a six-game winning streak after losing to Michigan to tumble out of contention for a playoff berth in late October.
Notre Dame also lost to Georgia in September; however, Kelly said the team remained focused and continued to focus and get better.
“Even this week. ‘Notre Dame is not ready to play.’ They used that as another form of motivation to show people wrong, They just read this team wrong,” Kelly said. “It’s just so satisfying that this group has been rewarded with 11 wins. … 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.”
Book completed 20 of 28 passes without an interception, including a 27-yard TD throw to Claypool, who went over 1,000 yards receiving for the season and also recovered a fumble on special teams to set up an early field goal.
Iowa State (7-6) lost to four ranked teams — Iowa, Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State — by a combined 11 points this season and was hoping to end its fourth season under Matt Campbell with a signature win for a once-downtrodden program.
“You know, when we got here … there wasn’t even a thought that we could compete with teams like this. There was no thought that we could compete with the best teams in our conference,” Campbell said. “And, you know, to be quite honest with you, I don’t know if there was a lot of people that thought we could compete with our rival in our own state.”
Brock Purdy was 17 of 30 for 222 yards and no interceptions for the Cyclones, but he was unable to get his team into the end zone after throwing for a school single-season record 27 TDs during the regular season.
The sophomore quarterback left the game in the closing minutes with what Campbell described as a high ankle sprain.
Connor Assalley kicked field goals of 41, 26 and 42 yards .
“I think why you’re so disappointed is because you feel how close you really are to where you want to be,” Campbell said.
“Getting over that hump, taking that next step , that’s a great challenge,” Campbell added. “It’s a great challenge for Iowa State football, but no greater challenge, to be honest with you, that I’d rather tackle than that.”
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish had 26 takeaways during the regular season, including a nation-leading 17 fumbles. The defense set the tone from the start against one of the Big 12’s top passing attacks and never really allowed the high-scoring Cyclones to establish a rhythm offensively. As expected, the 6-foot-4, 229-pound Claypool was a difficult matchup for Iowa State’s smallish secondary. The Irish also outrushed the Cyclones 208-45, with a huge chunk of that advantage being built on Jones’ long scoring run.
Iowa State: After losing four games to ranked opponents by a combined 11 points during the regular season, the Cyclones were looking for a signature win against Notre Dame. Instead, they dug a hole with the early turnovers and never escaped. Until Jones’ long run put the Irish up by three TDs, it was a fairly close game statistically. Notre Dame ran 33 plays and gained 207 yards in the first half, while Iowa State had gained 204 yards on 32 plays up to that point. Ultimately, the difference were the fumbles and the Cyclones’ inability to get the ball in the end zone after scoring a school single-season record 53 touchdowns and 409 points during the regular season.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have won 10 or more games in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1991-93. Book is a senior but has a year of eligibility remaining. Coach Brian Kelly faces some tough decisions for 2020, including naming an offensive coordinator after parting ways with Chip Long earlier this month. Quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees called plays in the Camping World Bowl. The Irish open next season against Navy in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 29.
Iowa State: The Cyclones have won 23 games over past three seasons, one shy of the program record for a three-year span. With Purdy returning after setting single-season records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, completions and total offense, the future seems bright — especially if they can turn some of those narrow losses that kept them from being more successful this year into victories. The Cyclones begin next season at home against South Dakota on Sept. 5.