SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame has had an eventful week in Orlando, Fla. The Fighting Irish visited Universal Studios. Running back Mick Assaf and offensive lineman Colin Grunhard were awarded scholarships by Santa Claus. A play caller for the Camping World Bowl was named.
Now, it’s time to play the game.
The No. 15 Irish (10-2) face off against Iowa State (7-5) for the first time Saturday at Camping World Stadium (noon, ABC).
“The Camping World Bowl has really laid out the works for us,” Notre Dame senior safety Jalen Elliott said. “(I’m) just so excited to be here.”
The biggest news to come from the past week was the announcement of quarterbacks coach Tom Rees as the offensive play caller for the bowl game. Head coach Brian Kelly made the move official Thursday. Rees and running backs coach Lance Taylor have been putting the game plan together after the firing of offensive coordinator Chip Long.
It’ll be Rees, though — the former Notre Dame quarterback and rumored frontrunner to replace Long — who’ll call the plays against the Cyclones.
“There will be collaboration, as there has been,” Kelly said. “I think Tom will be in the box. He’ll send the plays down to me — not that I’m going to be micromanaging what he’s doing. We’ve done a really good job of collaborating all week and, obviously, before we came down here, in terms of what we want to accomplish. (I) feel really good about it.”
Kelly expressed confidence in Rees’ ability to call plays given his experience with the sport.
“I think he’s got a great background leading up to this,” Kelly said. “He’s been in this arena before. He grew up in this arena of college football. And he’ll be well-supported. During the game, in the box, he’ll be able to see the field, and I’ll help him strategically.”
Rees will get to call plays for a quarterback who went on a tear in the final month of the season in redshirt junior Ian Book. After an embarrassing loss to Michigan to end October, Book had a 5-0 November to give the Irish double-digit wins for the third-straight season. Book finished with 2,792 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“I think the great understanding of the offense at the quarterback position and the detail that he plays with and the ability to make things happen with not only his feet but his arm is really impressive,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “Just a really well-coached football team that never beats itself.”
Iowa State plays a unique defense, with Kelly calling it a 3-5-3 alignment as opposed to the standard 3-4-3 or 4-3-4. That’ll provide a challenge for the Notre Dame offense with a first-time offensive coordinator.
“They create problems because of the uniqueness of the scheme,” Kelly said. “You’re not really sure exactly what it is at times because they do such a good job of creating a different look against different teams. It’s a unique structure defensively.”
The other quarterback Saturday, Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, also had a strong 2019 regular season. The sophomore had 3,760 yards passing, 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also had 265 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, so he has the ability to run the ball at times.
Passing is what Purdy and the Cyclones like to do, though, as he ranked fifth in the nation in passing yards this season.
“They throw that ball around a lot, and they’re a really good team,” Elliott said. “They’re going to come out and they’re going to give us their best shot, and we’re going to do the same. We can’t wait to get out there and try to make plays for our team and get the offense the ball back.”
A lot has been made about Iowa State’s record being misleading and rightfully so. The five losses are by a combined 23 points, including a one-point loss to Oklahoma, which is playing in the College Football Playoff semifinal against LSU on Saturday afternoon.
“Many people don’t know how good this football team is,” Kelly said. “But I can tell you, in my 30 years of coaching football, I know how good it is. It’s going to be a great football game. We’re looking forward to the challenge. Should be exciting for everybody to watch.”