Uneven season for Cyclones ends with Camping World Bowl dud

Iowa State cornerback Anthony Johnson tackles Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book during the 2019 Camping World Bowl.

Noah Rohlfing

Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said in the lead-up to Saturday’s Camping World Bowl that he had yet to see the Cyclones play a complete game all season. 

He didn’t see one against No. 14 Notre Dame, either.

Iowa State was behind the eight-ball from the start of the game, with two early turnovers leading to a quick 10-0 Fighting Irish lead — despite strong early play from the defense.

The game wasn’t closer than that from then on. 

The end result was a 33-9 loss to the Irish and a season record of 7-6 in Campbell’s fourth year heading the program.

“Obviously, there’s about seven or eight plays in this football game that really dictated the outcome of the football game in some ways for us that allowed us to be inefficient,” Campbell said postgame. “And, unfortunately, that’s really what’s held us back at times this football season from becoming the team that we do have the ability to become.”

The Cyclones were shooting themselves in the foot from the word go, with a missed fourth-and-one among the many mistakes the team made, which gave Notre Dame opportunities to capitalize with its star wide receiver Chase Claypool.

Claypool was named the game’s MVP going away, as he pulled in seven receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown. It seemed as though the Cyclones weren’t able to keep an eye on the Notre Dame senior, and it was key to the Irish holding onto momentum.

But parts of the game were a continuation of the team’s loss to Kansas State on Nov. 30 — self-inflicted wounds, an inability to finish drives and not having the big bodies on defense. The Irish pounded away at Iowa State’s offensive and defensive lines and were more physical as a whole. Brock Purdy and the offense were often stalled around the Notre Dame 40, making some progress but failing to capitalize on chances to get back into the game. 

Notre Dame had so such problems. 

“Detail and execution,” Campbell said. “Those are little things that this team — it’s kind of prohibited us at times from being the best version of us we need to be and, you know, that starts with me as the football coach.

“If it’s not getting done, then we’ve got to make sure it’s getting done.”

The Cyclones had the ball first in the second half after trailing 20-6, with an opportunity to score and make it a one-possession game. Instead, they went three-and-out — and Notre Dame running back Tony Jones went 84 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the drive, putting Iowa State on life support one minute into the third quarter.

The Irish ran the ball 37 times for a total of 208 yards, with Jones going for 135 on 11 carries. Once Notre Dame was able to lean on the Cyclones and control the clock, Iowa State had a hard time getting off of the field. 

With only 45 rushing yards on 27 carries, Iowa State’s offense rested solely on Brock Purdy — but with Julian Good-Jones missing the game with injury, the Cyclones’ makeshift unit failed to hold up against the Irish pass rush. 

Coach Brian Kelly praised his team’s complete effort.

“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.”

The Cyclones end the year with their biggest loss since the final game of Campbell’s first season in 2016 and a lot to think about in the nine months before the 2020 season gets underway in September.

In a year with so much promise at its beginning, the Cyclones played in fits and starts, losing close game after close game and not reaching the heights that led some (notably Desmond Howard) to predict a conference championship for Iowa State.

Instead, the Cyclones found out this year just how far they have to go to take their next step forward as a program. And they’ll have to do it in 2020 without some key contributors, including wideout Deshaunte Jones.

It wasn’t the fairy tale ending Iowa State wanted in the land of Disney — but Jones said the Cyclones have the leaders in place to come back stronger.

“The team, there’s so many guys on the team that’s going to go back to work and continue to expect greatness from everybody,” Jones said. “There’s so many leaders in that locker room right now that’s going to bring that team together. I don’t have any worry of what’s going to happen to the next team, the 2020 team.”