Jacksonville Sports Day

CAMPING WORLD: Irish’s Kelly Happy with All Three Phases of Game in Win

By Jordan Perez
Florida Citrus Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. — Any college football coach knows 11 wins is a monumental accomplishment in a season. But when stacked among a series of strong seasons, an 11-win campaign adds up to even more.

“Over the last three years [we have] 33 wins,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly pointed out after his team’s 33-9 Camping World Bowl win over Iowa State. “That’s a lot of success and a lot of life lessons.”

With Saturday’s victory over the Cyclones, Notre Dame has now won at least 11 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1980s, and the Irish have three straight 10-win seasons for the first time since the early ‘90s. That was a golden era for the Golden Domers, and this stretch is waking up some echoes.

“We knew that the way they played against Virginia Tech after the Michigan game, what the identity was of this group and who their character was and truly who they were as a football team,” Kelly said. “And that was the case each and every week. They didn’t complain about what they didn’t have. They knew what they had, and that was they had each other and a chance to play another game together.”

The Camping World Bowl offered plenty of chances for the Irish: a chance for quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees to demonstrate his play calling ability as the interim offensive coordinator, a chance for NFL hopefuls Chase Claypool and Khalid Kareem to flex a little, and a chance to cap Kelly’s fourth 10-plus win season in five years.

The talent advantage was there. All Kelly had to do was capitalize. And the runaway win perfectly illustrated that. The Irish were both physical and fast. They forced errors and overcame a few of their own. Their defense made the big plays on offense loom larger.

“All three phases were outstanding today,” Kelly said. “I thought the defensive performance — when you hold an offense that put 40 points on a team that’s playing in the playoffs in Oklahoma, to no touchdowns, you know, you can’t hide from that.

“And then offensively, you know, we ran the ball effectively, play-action pass, spread the field around,” Kelly continued. “And when you’ve got playmakers like Chase Claypool, and Tony Jones ran the ball effectively, and Ian Book — it was a comprehensive game plan, and all three phases showed themselves very well today.”

Notre Dame was slow to put a scoring drive together in the first quarter, relying on fumble recoveries by Claypool and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to propel them ahead. The Iowa State turnovers gave Notre Dame a chance to score 10 points, and its defense wouldn’t yield a touchdown all game.

That was thanks in part to Notre Dame’s premier defensive line, led by Owusu-Koramoah’s three sacks and nine total tackles, which held Iowa State to just 272 yards of total offense.

Claypool and the running back, Jones, Jr., accounted for a pair of the Fighting Irish’s highlight plays — the former offering an memorable stat line for NFL scouts on hand: 146 yards on receptions, a touchdown and a fumble recovery. Jones, Jr. scored on the longest rushing play in Camping World Bowl history, hauling down the sideline 84 yards to paydirt in the third quarter.

It’s the most consistency the head coach has had in his 10 seasons with the program and further establishes Notre Dame’s place in the Top 25. It also opens up the debate as to whether or not Notre Dame could start next season ranked in the Top 10.

“Even this week, you know, [we heard], ‘Notre Dame is not ready to play,’” Kelly said. “They used that as another form of motivation to show people wrong. You just read this team wrong, and it’s just so satisfying that this group has been rewarded with 11 wins because they have thought only about their teammates and how they can work to get better each and every day.

“So they overcame adversity and lived the life lessons of it,” Kelly continued. “They’re not perfect. They never pretended to be perfect and never wanted to be, but [they] always strived for excellence.”

An ugly loss in the rain against Michigan in October brought about concern among the Notre Dame faithful for where the Irish were headed. After six straight wins, it doesn’t look like Kelly’s bunch is headed anywhere but up.

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