First half miscues bury Cyclones against Notre Dame

Braxton Lewis attempts to make a tackle against No. 14 on Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28 in Orlando, Florida.

Matt Belinson

In its 33-9 loss to Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl, Iowa State beat itself.

Right from the get-go Notre Dame took control — even after its offense went three and out on its first drive — thanks to a Tarique Milton punt-return fumble. 

Milton attempted to gain yardage upfield but had the ball ripped out a few steps into his return.

Just like that, Notre Dame had the momentum.

The Irish took the fumble recovery at midfield and settled for a field goal to make it 3-0 with 9:29 remaining in the first quarter.

Iowa State’s second drive saw signs of life, as Breece Hall busted out a 23 yard run on the first play from scrimmage. After multiple chunk plays brought the Cyclones to the Notre Dame 36 yard line, another turnover would cost the Cyclones a chance to respond.

Brock Purdy took the snap and was pressured — as he was frequently on the day — and decided to keep it himself to try and run for some extra yardage.

Purdy juked two defenders before he was sacked by Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah for a six yard loss. During the sack, Purdy lost the ball and the Irish pounced on top of it, once again taking the air out of Iowa State’s sails. 

Purdy said he blamed himself for taking the momentum away from the Cyclones after the costly turnover, saying he will take time to get better at protecting the ball as he prepares for next season.

“It’s coming down to the details of taking care of the football, taking what the defense gives you, things like that,” Purdy said. “I need to get better at that, I’ve been turning over the ball in critical moments. You saw it in the first drive, we were moving and next thing you know I lose the ball and it kills momentum and that’s on me and I’ll get better from it.”

By the end of the first half, Iowa State was in a 20-6 hole after Notre Dame scored 10 of its 20 points off two crucial turnovers.

The 14-point deficit loomed even larger because of how close the Cyclones were on the stat sheet, as Iowa State averaged more yards per play than the Irish and was only out-gained 207-204 in first half.

However, it wasn’t just the offense that struggled in the first half, with Marcel Spears dropping an interception mid-way in the second quarter — allowing Notre Dame to keep the ball.

One of the biggest examples of Iowa State hurting itself came at the tail-end of the first half, as once again the Cyclones were looking to get into the end-zone.

After Purdy connected with Sean Shaw for a 28-yard gain, Iowa State was in business at the Notre Dame three yard line, looking to finally punch into the end-zone before the half was over.

After what looked to be a great chance to score, Bryce Meeker was called for a false start for Iowa State, forcing the Cyclones to back up to the Notre Dame eight yard line.

Iowa State would fail to reach the end zone after the penalty, with Purdy being forced to throw balls out of bounds and out of reach of his receivers with multiple quarterback hurries from the Irish defensive line.

Iowa State would instead let Connor Assalley make his second field goal of the half with 50 seconds left to make it 20-6 as opposed to a possible 20-10 score right before Iowa State would get the ball to start the second half. 

For head coach Matt Campbell, the drive-killing penalties and turnovers have seemed to haunt the Cyclones in big situations all year, with Saturday being no exception.

“Obviously there was about seven or eight plays that really dictated the outcome of the football game in some ways for us that allowed us to be inefficient,” Campbell said. “Unfortunately that’s really what has held us back at times this football season.”

Campbell said his team could not execute because of coaching errors first and foremost. Campbell blamed himself for Notre Dame’s conversions on third and long, as well as Iowa State’s penalties.

Against an opponent like the 14th-ranked Irish, a lack of execution like Cyclones had in the first half will be almost impossible to overcome.

“You talk about two fourth and ones, you talk about two fumbles, man it’s really hard to beat a really good football team and not execute in those critical situations,” Campbell said.

One of Iowa State’s few bright spots on offense was senior La’Michael Pettway.

Pettway hauled in a team-leading four catches for 54 yards on the day, but was pretty blunt when it came to why the Cyclones were defeated the way they were — Iowa State hurt itself time and time again.

“We let Iowa State beat Iowa State today,” Pettway said. “To go out like that is definitely tough.”

The transfer from Arkansas played his last game in Cardinal and Gold on Saturday, but said that the Cyclones will have to improve its details if it hopes to find success against high-level competition.

Pettway said that Iowa State can’t expect to win against an opponent like the Irish if mistakes are present as much as they were on Saturday.

“Against teams like this, against Notre Dame, we can’t allow that,” Pettway said.