Bowl Season is upon us once again. The Cyclones headed to Orlando, Florida to face the 15th ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl. It would be Iowa State’s 3rd (different) consecutive bowl game appearance, while the Irish would be making their 9th bowl game of the decade. It would be a great opportunity for Iowa State to tackle a nationally recognized opponent on the big stage.
What Went Right
Connor Assalley and Joe Rivera
Not a lot went the way of the Cyclones on Saturday morning, but Connor Assalley and Joe Rivera were 2 of them. Connor set an Iowa State record for field goals made in a bowl game, making all 3 of his kicks. 2 of which were beyond 40 yards, an area where Assalley had struggled in his career (previously just 4-10 beyond 40 yards.) Keeping it with the special teams unit, Joe Rivera had an excellent game punting the football. Rivera had 5 punts on the day, averaging 47 yards a boot with a long of 53. He and the punting unit pinned Notre Dame inside their own 20 on 4 of his 5 kicks (the 5th was downed at the 22), and 2 of those 4 were even downed inside the 10. Joe did his job pinning the Irish deep in their own territory.
It’s very well known that Iowa State fans travel about as well as any group in the country. So if I told you they showed up in Orlando in waves of Cardinal and Gold, you wouldn’t be surprised. Even so, I have to give credit to Cyclone Nation for getting their butts down to Orlando to support the team. This was a huge opportunity for the team, and while it didn’t go as the fans wanted it to, they stuck it out, supported the team, and made their presence known.
3rd down defense
Finding this in the “What Went Right” part of this article has been a rarity throughout the year, but Iowa State was really good on 3rd down on Saturday. Notre Dame converted just 3 of their 13 third downs (though they did convert both 4th down attempts.) It was a nice change of pace from the usual 40-50% third down conversion percentage that opponents have consistently gotten against this defense this year.
Hoo boy.... Now for this part of the article...
What Went Wrong
The first 2 possessions for Iowa State really set the tone for how this game was going to go. The defense immediately forced a quick 3 and out, just to have a fumble on the ensuing punt return. Defends bends but doesn’t break, holding to a field goal, just to have another fumble on the next drive (after some good plays, I might add), setting up a Notre Dame touchdown, and with 3 minutes to go in the 1st quarter, the Cyclones found themselves down 10 and in desperate need of a sustaining drive.
4th down play-calling
Any time you line up in a shotgun set on 4th and inches, you’re making a mistake. Get up under center, and punch it through. Iowa State lined up TWICE on 4th and a yard (or less) from the shotgun, and TWICE got absolutely nothing. The first time, they were on a drive down by 7, and could’ve found themselves battling back from an awful start. Instead, Breece Hall got nothing on the inside run, and Notre Dame took over, and scored a field goal to get back a 2 possession lead. The other time, Notre Dame was already up 30-9, and the game was basically over, but Iowa State lined up to go for it again. AGAIN in the shotgun. This time, they tried to roll Purdy out and throw for it, and he got sacked for a loss of 15 yards, while suffering a high ankle sprain.
9 points isn’t (generally) enough to win a football game. Especially when you give the other team extra possessions (we’ve already discussed the turnovers.) Outside of that, when you get in the red zone against good teams, you have to capitalize with touchdowns. Iowa State only got inside the 20 once in the entire game, and not only that, had the ball first and goal on the 3, but couldn’t find the end zone. Brock put together a really nice play to set them up inside the 5 (nice catch by Shaw also), but a false start and 3 incompletions later, Iowa State wound up settling for 3. When you find yourself down 20-3 before the end of the first half, and you have first and goal at the 3, you have to find the end zone. Score before the half, get the ball right out of the half. Iowa State couldn’t find the momentum, and Notre Dame made them pay
Special Teams: B-
A lot of things to look forward to for this team. Strange that a 7-6 season with a bowl loss to a nationally recognized program is disappointing, after the last decade of Iowa State Football. I’m not one for moral victories, and Saturday didn’t leave many, but we have Campbell in Ames, Purdy at the helm, and a bright future. Here’s to 2020.
Happy New Year, Cyclone Nation!