Nov 9, 2019; Durham, NC, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Chase Claypool (83) celebrates his touchdown catch with wide receiver Chris Finke (10) , tight end Cole Kmet (84) , wide receiver Javon McKinley (88) and offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland (57) during the first half against the Duke Blue Devils at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
ORLANDO, Fla. — On Tuesday, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly talked about how Iowa State’s defensive scheme is unlike anything the No. 14 Fighting Irish have seen so far this season.
One day later, Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock was saying something similar about the Notre Dame offense ahead of the two teams’ matchup in the Camping World Bowl on Saturday in Orlando.
“I think you see outstanding players all over the field. I think their offensive line is tremendous. Their quarterback is playing at a high-level and making great decisions. The wide receiver corp is skilled. The tight ends are probably as good of a group as we’ve seen all season long. The running backs are big physical guys who work the ball downhill,” Heacock said before Iowa State took the field at Camping World Stadium for its second practice in Orlando. “I think from a scheme standpoint you see a really balanced team… There’s really no breaking points to Notre Dame’s offense. I think those guys have done a tremendous job. They’re never the same in anything. They know what their concepts are. They do a great job with those. They really force you into a lot of conflicts. They force you to be disciplined players. They force you to be in gaps. They force you to cover your people. They force you to play in zones. It’s a great challenge for our guys.”
Jon Heacock speaks on the Notre Dame offense pic.twitter.com/V10aqpXDQt— CycloneFanatic.com (@cyclonefanatic) December 25, 2019
The Fighting Irish enter Saturday’s contest ranked 13th nationally in scoring offense, putting up a little more than 37 points per game, with seven games of scoring 35 or more points. Notre Dame is not overly prolific in either rushing or passing statistically, but their offense is balanced and efficient coming in at No. 28 in ESPN’s offensive efficiency metric, which is four spots ahead of Iowa State.
That efficiency can be credited in large part to senior quarterback Ian Book, who has thrown for 2,792 yards and 33 touchdowns while completing almost 60 percent of his passes with just six interceptions.
He is also surrounded by a talented group of skill players led by wide receiver Chase Claypool (team-high 59 catches for 891 yards and 12 touchdowns) and tight end Cole Kmet (41 catches for 481 yards and six touchdowns).
“They’ve got a great group of people that they’re working with. I think the schemes are very, very high level. I think they do a great job with those of keeping you in conflict as a defensive coach,” Heacock said. “He has the ability to plays last. He can make the play last in the run and he can make a play last on a scramble. We’ve got to do a great job in those areas when we can. I think the bottom line is he’s just really a good player. He’s a veteran guy out there that’s very confident in what he does.”
Heacock said he would consider Book to be essentially a combination of several quarterbacks Iowa State has faced this season, specifically mentioning Texas’ Sam Ehlinger, Baylor’s Charlie Brewer and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts.
The Cyclones faced two of the names in that trio late in the season once injuries had started to mount slightly for the defense, most notably to star safety and two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection Greg Eisworth, which made the several week break since the regular season-ending loss to Kansas State crucial for how the staff can approach game-planning for the Irish.
“I think it’s been beneficial to get guys healthy. I think that’s been a big benefit. I think we were really a beat-up team down the stretch. I think time has allowed our guys to get healthier to allow us to do the things that we do. [The Irish] force you to do different things,” Heacock said. “They don’t let you just sit and play your defense. You’ve got to do some things that are different. We’ve had, thankfully, the time to help us do that. We are who we are. We’re healthier than we’ve been, that’s a plus. But, at the same time, they force you, because of who they are, a little bit to do some different things. At the same point in time, we’re going to have to play our defense.”