In the team's 33-9 victory over Iowa State, the Notre Dame offense looked like it had all season. The Fighting Irish had a significant talent advantage over the Cyclones and they took full advantage, relying on big plays to fuel an offense that struggled to get movement in the run game and had many sloppy moments.
Notre Dame went three-and-out on its first drive, but the special teams and defense gave the offense a pair of short fields by forcing a pair of fumbles, and the offense responded by putting 10 points on the board.
Notre Dame’s next touchdown came after the defense once again gave the offense a short field after a 4th-and-1 stop. The offense responded by taking the ball down the field for a touchdown.
From a grading standpoint, the offense will get dinged for its struggles on third-down, its general sloppiness and the poor run blocking from the offensive line. But the offense will get high marks for the fact it did take full advantage of three short fields, scoring two touchdowns and getting a field goal as the Irish jumped out to a 20-6 halftime lead.
Notre Dame also gets high marks for its ability to make big plays, which has been a big part of the offense all season. The Irish got an 84-yard touchdown run, a 43-yard pass reception and a 32-yard pass reception to go with the short fields, and that is what allowed Notre Dame to blow this game open.
Notre Dame went 3-13 on third-down and had to settle for field goals on two drives that got inside the 10-yard line.
*** Quarterback Ian Book made some big plays in the game, but he also had some inconsistent moments. He went 8-13 for 132 yards in the first half, and he made two huge throws. His 3rd-and-12 Cover 2-hole throw for a 24-yard touchdown to Claypool was a great read and throw. As soon as the safety turned inside Book went outside to Claypool, putting good zip on the ball and placing it perfectly on the sideline for the score. He went 4-4 on third-down in the first half, but the other three third-down completions failed to move the chains.
*** Book had some missed reads where downfield throws were open, and early on he was rushing through his progressions, but he settled down and showed more poise in the pocket as the game wore on. Book did a good job moving around the pocket and either picking up first downs with his legs, or in the case of a crucial second quarter drive staying back in the pocket, buying time and finding Claypool open downfield for a 43-yard gain, setting up a touchdown.
*** Overall it was a quality performance from Book. Two possible interceptions were dropped, but he was able to play clean football and got the ball out to his playmakers in enough situations for the Irish to win the game. Book finished 20-28 for 247 yards and a score in the game while adding 30 rushing yards.
*** Running back Tony Jones Jr. got very little room to run, but when he did get a crease he made the most of it. Jones bounced outside for a 26-yard gain early in the game and then broke the game open with an 84-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Jones showed good patience on both runs, and as soon as the crease opened up he burst through the hole for big gains. His stiff-arm to finish off the long touchdown run was incredibly impressive.
*** You can see the initial patience by Jones, allowing the perimeter blocks to develop and then exploding through the hole was they were set up. It was a strong read from Jones as well. Jones finished the game with 135 yards on 11 carries.
*** Junior running back Jafar Armstrong had a good third-down run early in the game, using a quick stutter to freeze the defender long enough to allow the Irish runner to get positive yards outside. Armstrong ran hard between the tackles but like it was for Jones, there was often very little room to work. He had multiple losses on the perimeter, but again, that was more of a blocking issue than it was about Armstrong not running well.
*** Sophomore RB C'Bo Flemister looked very good late in the game, rushing for 30 yards on six carries. Flemister ran with authority and attacked downhill effectively.
*** Iowa State did not have anyone in its secondary that had the size or talent to matchup against wide receiver Chase Claypool. The Irish senior did exactly what a great player is supposed to do against inferior opposition, he absolutely dominated. Claypool was a man amongst boys in this game, getting open with quality routes, making plays after the catch and dominating downfield when the ball was in the air.
*** Claypool put the offense on his shoulders in the first half, setting up the first score of the game with a 13-yard gain on a 3rd-and-17. His back shoulder touchdown grab in the first quarter showed excellent body control and put his length and strong hands on display. Claypool did a great job finding an open spot on a Book scramble and working himself open for a 43-yard gain that set up another touchdown. Claypool finished with seven catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.
*** Fifth-year senior receiver Chris Finke had a solid final game in an Irish uniform. His route running was crisp and his production could have been even better than it was. He was open on a few routes that could have added to his production, but the veteran still finished with six catches for 46 yards. Finke was solid in the run game as well.
*** Iowa State as clearly aware of where sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy was lined up. The talented wideout rushed for 12 yards on three carries and caught one pass for seven yards. On that reception Lenzy ran his out cut short of the sticks, which resulted in his 7-yard gain coming up a yard short of the first down marker.
*** Junior tight end Cole Kmet only had two catches for 33 yards, but outside of a couple of snaps his blocking was good. Kmet got called for holding early in the game, but he had a crucial perimeter block on Jones’ 84-yard touchdown. Sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble also had a strong day in the run game. The Irish tight ends combined for just three catches and 42 yards, but they still made their presence felt thanks to their blocking.
*** Up front the Irish offensive line did a very good job in pass protection. Iowa State got a couple of early pressures, but by and large the line did a great job giving their quarterback time to throw. The run blocking is another story. Notre Dame got pushed around for much of the game, and once again Brian Kelly will point to the yards (208 rushing yards) and not focus on the actual play. The Irish got 110 yards on two carries where only one OL had an impact on the run. On its other 35 carries the offense had just 98 rushing yards, and more than 10 of those yards were on pass game scrambles.
*** Left tackle Liam Eichenberg got called for a false start early in the game, which continues a season-long trend of the Irish line getting flagged for false starts. Outside of that I felt Eichenbeg had a strong performance. His pass protection was outstanding and his run blocking was good. For some reason the Irish coaches decided not to run behind him very often, but when they did there was success. Eichenberg had a crucial seal block on the edge on Jones’ 84-yard touchdown run.
*** Center Jarrett Patterson had a good game in pass protection, but he got pushed around by the interior of the Iowa State defensive line. The right side of the line also struggled to get any movement in this game. The inability to block in the run game is why the Irish had two series stall inside the 10-yard line, forcing field goal attempts instead of getting touchdowns. Notre Dame got very little movement up the middle, which is why the run game had to rely on perimeter plays where the tight ends and wide receivers had to make the crucial blocks.
*** There were questionable run game play calls as well, with Notre Dame losing yards on outside runs where it didn’t seem they had a leverage or numbers advantage, and the results were negative gains. This was especially true when Notre Dame ran to the right. Another questionable play call was a quarterback outside zone run to the right side on a 3rd-and-1. The play didn’t work and the Irish were forced to punt. In that situation the play needs to be run behind the team’s best blocker - Eichenberg - and needs to go to the left.