Notre Dame Chase Claypool
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Notre Dame strips Iowa State of Camping World upset hopes

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If Notre Dame was not satisfied with a Camping World Bowl appearance, it did not show for so much as a moment in a dominating 33-9 win against Iowa State. The No. 15 Irish (11-2) used a couple of early fumbles to get a 10-0 first-quarter lead and then never gave the Cyclones (7-6) a chance at a comeback.

After a week filled with outside speculation of an unfocused team, such a wire-to-wire performance silenced any doubts about Notre Dame’s makeup.

“Even this week, ‘Notre Dame is not ready to play,’” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said after receiving the Camping World Bowl trophy. “They used that as another form of motivation to show people wrong. You just read this team wrong.”

If the focus was not there early in the week, a single-minded form of it arrived Saturday, led by senior receiver Chase Claypool. He recovered the first of those fumbles, a punt fumble forced by senior safety Alohi Gilman, fitting given Claypool’s first Notre Dame impacts were on special teams as a freshman in 2016. He finished with 146 receiving yards — bringing his season total to 1,037 — and a touchdown on seven catches.

The score came after junior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah forced and recovered a fumble and gave the Irish a 10-0 lead. By this point, enough of Claypool’s 13 touchdowns have been impressively leaping and acrobatic that the 24-yard snag hardly surprised.

Claypool was not alone in crossing a threshold; senior quarterback Ian Book reached 3,034 yards by throwing for 247 in Orlando, all part of an offensive performance that gained 455 yards and averaged 7.0 yards per play with quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees calling plays.

“I thought it was well-orchestrated,” Kelly said. “… The ability to run the football, 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, find matchups that work for us. I thought the ball was spread evenly and then run effectively.”

As impressive as Claypool and Rees’ offense were, the Irish defense may have been even more so. Notre Dame kept Iowa State sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy from ever finding a rhythm, throwing for 222 yards on 17-of-30 passing, well below his average of 313.3 passing yards per game.

The Cyclones gained 204 yards in the first half, but then only 68 in the second as Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s unit tightened its grip. This season, the Cyclones never fell short of 17 points; this was hardly a weak offense, averaging 34.1 points per game.

“All year, we’ve been stingy in the passing defense efficiency,” Kelly said. “We felt like we were going to be in a good position as long as we re-routed, did some good things and we did. Clark did a great job with the linebackers, getting into passing lanes, making it difficult, and our pass rush is so effective because you’re never getting settled.

“That’s been who we are all year, so I didn’t think we were going to be somebody different. We go against our defense all the time, and I know how difficult it is for us to throw the football against them.”

That defensive performance rendered moot any narrative about Notre Dame’s approach to the “second-tier” bowl or who had how little experience calling offensive plays. It simply made it clear who would enter the offseason riding not only good momentum but a six-game winning streak.

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
Eventually named the Camping World Bowl MVP, Claypool’s official stat line fell short of what could have been when what would have been his 14th touchdown of the year instead became a 43-yard completion to the one-yard line upon a questionable review. The Irish already held a convincing 13-3 lead late in the second quarter, but with Iowa State receiving the kickoff to start the second half, the game was still in doubt.

Two plays later, junior running back Jafar Armstrong took a handoff around the edge for a touchdown and an overwhelming deficit.

That Claypool catch made him the ninth player in Notre Dame history with 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

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

PLAY OF THE GAME
The ABC broadcast did an illuminating job of highlighting the blocks that made senior running back Tony Jones’ 84-yard touchdown run possible. Tight ends Cole Kmet and Tommy Tremble, and fifth-year receiver Chris Finke all cleared Jones’ path through the second- and third-levels.

From there, it was a question of if Jones could outrun his pursuers. For all his varied assets, outright speed has never been among them. Instead, Jones made a stiff arm apparent.

“It was exciting — it was the culmination of putting together a running plan that when you see it hit, and then you see [Jones] 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. “You saw him today break down the sideline and have the longest run in Notre Dame bowl history, another record that probably will not be given enough credit to a guy.

“He doesn’t really care about that stuff. He was just excited about the ability to run the ball today effectively. He ran physical and did what he normally does, help us win.”

Thanks to that run, Jones gained 135 yards on 11 carries, bringing his season totals to 857 yards on 144 rushes, a 5.95 average per attempt.

STAT OF THE GAME
Claypool’s 1,000 receiving yards, Book’s 3,000 passing yards, Rees’ offense averaging seven yards per play, Lea’s defense holding the Cyclones to 68 second-half yards — all would be suitable for this category.

The two recovered fumbles, though, further a season-long trend. The Irish finished the year +17 in turnovers, including recovering 19 of 33 fumbles, unusual luck in a game with an oblong ball. Pending a few more bowl games, namely Alabama’s (+16) and Clemson’s (+14), Notre Dame’s margin currently ranks No. 3 in the country, as does its 28 turnovers forced.

Just as vitally, the Irish consistently score off those quick changes in possessions, including 10 points against Iowa State.

“We feed off each other, us and the defense,” Claypool said. “They tell us they’re going to get a stop, and then we have to go score for them. It’s give-and-take. I was happy we were able to put something on the board right after that turnover and then continue that on.

“The defense kept giving us good field position, good confidence, because once we get a lead, we can start opening up our playbook a little bit.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME
Claypool won MVP honors, for good reason, but looking beyond him, junior kicker Jonathan Doerer warrants notice, not for the first time this season. Even with a 51-yard knuckler, he went 4-of-4 on field goal attempts. While a 33-9 win is utterly one-sided, a 27-9 game result would not have been as drastic, and if one of those hypothetically-missed field goals, the 51-yarder perhaps, yielded such field position that the Cyclones scored, a 27-16 conclusion would have left space for the perpetually-frustrated to gripe.

Owusu-Koramoah should also be mentioned, making nine tackles with four for loss including three sacks and the forced fumble he recovered himself.

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
9:29 — Notre Dame field goal. Jonathan Doerer 39 yards. Notre Dame 3, Iowa State 0. (8 plays, 21 yards, 4:10)
3:20 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chase Claypool 24-yard pass from Ian Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 10, Iowa State 0. (8 plays, 58 yards, 3:43)

Second Quarter
9:27 — Iowa State field goal. Connor Assalley 41 yards. Notre Dame 10, Iowa State 3. (7 plays, 43 yards, 2:46)
7:23 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 51 yards. Notre Dame 13, Iowa State 3. (5 plays, 32 yards, 2:04)
2:25 — Notre Dame touchdown. Jafar Armstrong 1-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 20, Iowa State 3. (4 plays, 45 yards, 1:30)
0:50 — Iowa State field goal. Assalley 26 yards. Notre Dame 20, Iowa State 6. (8 plays, 67 yards, 1:35)

Third Quarter
13:14 — Notre Dame touchdown. Tony Jones 84-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 27, Iowa State 6. (1 play, 84 yards, 0:15)
4:58 — Iowa State field goal. Assalley 42 yards. Notre Dame 27, Iowa State 9. (10 plays, 55 yards, 4:33)
0:15 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 19 yards. Notre Dame 30, Iowa State 9. (13 plays, 74 yards, 4:43)

Fourth Quarter
3:53 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 39 yards. Notre Dame 33, Iowa State 9. (9 plays, 28 yards, 4:51)