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Defensive Player to Watch: Will McDonald

It’ll be fun watching McDonald turn Rudy into a folding chair.

NCAA Football: Texas at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

In just a couple days, Iowa State will take on Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl.

When Iowa State was picked to play in this game, I really had no idea what to think. Notre Dame is an independent team that I don’t really watch a lot, bowl games are crap shoots, and I have no idea how Iowa State will play after under-performing all season.

About three weeks later, it’s still the exact same thing. I have exactly no idea where I stand on this game. I’m going to try and give my “expert” analysis on the team that gave Rudy a chance.

For starters, Notre Dame has a very balanced offense that is manned by a veteran quarterback Ian Book. They use a running back by committee on offense that has been consistent over the last half of the season. They’ve got a big tight end by the name of Cole Kmet and one of the best wide receivers in the country in Chase Claypool. Claypool plays at 6’5 and is very similar to a receiver we saw in Ames last season. They also trot out Braden Lenzy, a receiver averaging 19 yards per carry on end around plays.

How is Iowa State going to defend this? If I had to guess, they are going to play to their strength, which is bringing pressure. If Iowa State drops back in coverage every play and gives Book a bunch of time to find Claypool down the field, the Cyclones will be in trouble.

At the same time, Iowa State will be challenged to contain all of Notre Dame’s weapons on the outside. The assignment of getting pressure on a veteran quarterback while also containing the pocket is something that can only be done with a solid game plan and a fantastic defensive end.

That defensive end is someone that I’ve had high expectations for all season, and one that’s emerged as a big-time playmaker over the last few games, Will McDonald.

McDonald started the season out slow, but has turned it on in the last three games of the season, recording five sacks against Texas, Kansas, and Kansas State. Despite being undersized, McDonald has shown that he can simply overpower players with his strength and speed off the edge.

Throughout the season, McDonald also missed out on several sack opportunities due to missed holding calls where he would’ve had a clear shot at the quarterback. He also had a few missed sacks and tackles just by not wrapping up and not finishing the tackle. If a few of those misses had gone differently, he could have had a monster season as a redshirt freshman.

However, once the game starts on Saturday, all the career and stats will be wiped away and it won’t matter. All that will matter is the product on the field.

The product that McDonald puts out there on Saturday will be the single most important part of the game. If McDonald is rushing and getting pressure on Book, forcing him into some tough throws, Iowa State will be in a great position. If McDonald holds the fort on the ends and can stop Lenzy on end-arounds for a short gain, the defense will be in a position to take control of the game.

I truly believe that McDonald is the most talented player on the Iowa State defense and I believe that he has the ability to take over a game defensively. When he lives up to his potential on Saturday, expect an upset.