InsideNDSports - Notre Dame-Iowa State Notebook: Top Five Topics
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Notre Dame-Iowa State Notebook: Top Five Topics

The Camping World Bowl features No. 14 (Associated Press poll) and 10-2 Notre Dame versus unranked and 7-5 Iowa State Dec. 28, and serves as an appetizer prior to the College Football Playoff semifinals later that afternoon and evening.

The noon kickoff will be televised by ABC with Bob Wischusen (play-by-play man), Dan Orlovsky (color analyst) and Allison Williams (sideline reporter) on the call.

Here are five of the primary topics for the matchup between the Fighting Irish and the Cyclones:

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Iowa State sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy ranks fifth nationally in passing yards per game (313.3) and 20th in pass efficiency rating (152.3).
Iowa State sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy ranks fifth nationally in passing yards per game (313.3) and 20th in pass efficiency rating (152.3). (Iowa State Atheltics Communications)

1. Constant Close Calls

The Cyclones have not defeated a ranked team among their seven victories, with the top highlight being a 23-21 win versus Texas Nov. 16 when kicker Connor Assalley booted a 36-yard field goal as time expired.

The five defeats were by a total of 21 points, with four of them coming by 11, most notably four against teams that finished in the top 25 of the final College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings:

• 42-41 to No. 4 and 2019 CFP qualifier Oklahoma when Iowa State opted to go for the two-point play and the win with 24 seconds left in regulation time. However, sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy’s pass was intercepted.

• 23-21 to No. 7 Baylor, which kicked a 38-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining to eke out the home victory.

• 18-17 to No. 16 Iowa when the Hawkeyes converted a 39-yard field goal with 4:51 left in the game to take the lead for good.

• 34-27 to No. 25 Oklahoma State when the Cowboys returned an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter for the winning points.

The finale versus Kansas State was also tied in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats tallied the final 10 points in the 27-17 victory.

2. Strength Vs. Strength: What Will Give?

Iowa State’s calling card is its passing offense. Sophomore quarterback Purdy’s 313.3 yards per game are ranked fifth nationally, while his 153.2 pass efficiency ranking is No. 20 (compared to counterpart Ian Book’s 148.5 to rank No. 34).

Conversely, Notre Dame has allowed the third-fewest passing yards per contest at 163.7 per game, and is No. 5 in pass efficiency defense (109.61).

The Irish have not faced many top passing attacks this season, with USC quarterback Kedon Slovis (10th nationally in efficiency) presenting the most problems in the 30-27 Notre Dame victory Oct. 12. Slovis completed 24 of 35 passes for 255 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but most of the damage was done in the second half after the Irish had built a 17-3 halftime cushion.

The ISU passing wealth is spread well among third-team AP All-American tight end Charlie Kolar (48 catches for 675 yards and seven touchdowns), while wideouts Deshaunte Jones and La’Michael Pettway have combined for 123 catches, 1,454 receiving yards and eight scores.

The big-play man on the outside has been Tarique Milton, whose 33 catches average 20.9 yards.

The running game also was enhanced the final seven weeks by freshman running back Breece Hall, who during that time carried 151 times for 758 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns.

“They match up with the very top teams that we’ve played this year,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly summarized. “One of the things in their DNA and the way they’re coached is that they play extremely hard for four quarters.”

That brings us to …

3. Play Four Quarters

Against Oklahoma, Iowa State was down 42-21 entering the fourth quarter — but won the last 15 minutes 20-0 before a two-point conversion in the closing seconds resulted in defeat.

The Cyclones trailed Baylor 20-0 in the fourth quarter — but then scored 21 straight points to take a temporary 21-20 lead before the Bears eked out a 23-21 victory.

The fourth quarter easily has been the most prolific for Iowa State this season with 139 points. It tallied only 59 in the first (whereas Notre Dame had 101), 98 in the second and 97 in the third.

4. Coaching Attrition

Minus third-year offensive coordinator Chip Long, whom Notre Dame parted ways with earlier this month, the Irish play calling will be a “collaborative” effort among quarterbacks coach Tom Rees, running backs coach Lance Taylor and offensive line coach Jeff Quinn.

Understandably, Kelly preferred to remain nebulous on the overall operation.

“I’m leading it, and then giving them a clear direction in terms of where we want to go — and then let them go,” Kelly said this weekend. “I thought they’ve really done exactly what I was looking for over the last couple of days.

“It's not going to be the wing T out there, but I think you’ll clearly see some of the things that we want to accomplish in terms of the consistency in the running game and in the passing game, too. … I think we’re going to keep it as a national secret and let you guys try to guess and talk about it.”

Under defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, in his 35th year of coaching, the Cyclones run a somewhat unique 3-5-3 scheme that presents a different challenge.

“You don’t see much of it relative to week to week,” Kelly said. “So there were some nuances to that defensive structure that requires some time and some game planning. They play extremely hard on defense.”

5. The ‘Letdown Factor’

There is some opinion that whereas this is a Super Bowl of sorts for Iowa State, Notre Dame might feel blasé about the bowl and felt it was more deserving of a “major trip.”

Senior safety Alohi Gilman admitted to such emotions when he met with the media following the Irish Echoes Award Show on Dec. 13.

“I was pretty disappointed … that’s me as a competitor,” Gilman said. I feel like we should have had a little more respect on what we did in the season.

"But you can't complain about it. You just have to go out there and have fun and get another win."

A prime example of the letdown hangover last year was Georgia in last year's Sugar Bowl. Because of a close loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship, the two-loss Bulldogs believed they were still College Football Playoff worthy over 12-0 Notre Dame and it was beneath them to be relegated to playing 9-4 Texas.

Before you knew it, the Longhorns were up 10-0 after two series and 28-7 in the fourth quarter en route to the upset win.

For the Fighting Irish, the message has remained the same. The troops responded following the 45-14 debacle at Michigan Oct. 26 that eliminated them from CFP contention, and they answered with a 5‑0 November, highlighted by winning each of the last four games by at least 21 points.

“It’s just like the last five games we’ve played — it’s about a standard of play, it’s about an opportunity where a lot of these guys will be playing for their last game with this team,” Kelly said. “They want to play well. They want to play for each other. They want to continue to play at a high level.

“It’s really not about a lot of those different narratives other than these are 18- to 21-year-olds that are really focused on preparing and wanting to play well, enjoying being with their teammates for the last time this year, and not to make it much more complicated than that.

“They’ve done a really good job of avoiding a lot of the different scenarios that are set up about how they should think.”

Among the accomplishments possible are a first-ever 11-2 finish and possibly finishing in the Associated Press top 10 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1992-93.

“We won’t be defined by any one game in particular,” Kelly said. “We know what we’re getting: explosive offenses in the Big 12, really solid defensively, physical football team, well coached. Matt Campbell is an outstanding football coach.

“It’s going to be a good football team we’re playing.”

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