Ranked 9th in the preseason polls and with a playoff appearance in 2018, hopes were high that in 2019 Notre Dame football would reload, and with a veteran offense and ferocious pass rush, make another run at post season glory.
The schedule would include 7 home games and the challenge of road games against Georgia and Michigan, both preseason top 10 teams.
On Labor Day night the season opened at Louisville and the Irish prevailed 35-17. That evening both the offense and defense showed signs of things to come as the defense played well but the offense struggled early before putting the Cardinal away in the 2nd half.
Next up a 66-14 romp over New Mexico in the home opener, Ian Book threw for 5 TDs and impressive freshman Kyle Hamilton had a pick six.
The stage was then set for a visit to #3 Georgia. Cole Kmet was back from injury and he and the Irish played well, but a last-minute drive fell short and the Irish succumbed 23-17.
Back at home for the next 3 weeks, and down went an outstanding Virginia team, that would go on to play in the Orange Bowl, 35-20. The game was keyed by a 131 rushing yards from Tony Jones and 8 sacks by the defense.
That was followed up by another 5-touchdown pass performance by Ian Book and the defense pitched its first shutout in 5 years. ND 52 Bowling Green 0.
Next up USC, with a trio of outstanding receivers that were a nightmare to defend. But Ian Book, with a 14 play 7 minute 4th quarter drive, keyed by a couple Chase Claypool highlights, put the Trojans on ice on a chilly South Bend night, 30-27.
And then preseason #7, Michigan, oh Michigan! On a day full of rain, cold and more rain, the Wolverines scored three 4th quarter touchdowns and the Irish never did get on track, falling 45-14.
After having reached as high as 7th in the polls, the Michigan loss dropped the Irish to a #16 ranking, a plunge that would have long lasting implications.
None the less, the Irish embarked on a 5 game November, to remember. And it was their quarterback that took the team on his shoulder…. and his legs.
It started with a game winning drive against Virginia Tech-which was keyed by Ian Book’s scamper into the end zone with 32 seconds remaining to give the Irish the lead. ND 21 Virginia Tech 20.
Next the Irish traveled to Duke and on both sides of the ball the Irish were superb. 4 more touchdown passes by Book who also rushed for 139. ND 38-Duke 7.
The Irish then came home for the annual tilt with Navy, who boasted a top 25 ranking and the #1-rushing attack in the nation. But down went the Midshipmen. Chase Claypool caught 4 of Ian Book’s 5 TD passes and the defense forced 4 fumbles in route to the 52-20 blowout.
The next week, the Irish completed an undefeated season at home with a 40-7 stomping of Boston College. Book threw 3 more TD passes, again led the team in rushing and BC was held to just 191 yards of offense.
That set up the finale in Palo Alto, where the Irish had not won since 2007. Stanford took the early lead but Irish freshman Isaiah Foskey blocked a punt and the Irish took charge late in the 2nd quarter. Ian Book threw 4 more touchdown passes and the Irish closed out a 5-0 November, with a 45-24 win.
Despite the November winning streak, the Irish settled in at 15th in the College Football Playoff rankings and a New Year’s Day Six bowl was not in reach, ND’s fate had been sealed on that nasty weather night in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Ten Fighting Irish regular season wins, and two tough defeats.
The Orange Bowl or the Cotton Bowl would have loved to bring in the Irish, but contracts, conference affiliations and the CFP ranking conspired to send the Irish to the Camping World Bowl, against first time opponent Iowa State. All in all not a bad destination, a warm weather game with a solid history and one of the top payoffs of the non-CFP games at $6 million.
The reaction however was “oh hum” from most of the College Football world, including Fighting Irish Fans: an unranked opponent, and a bowl with an unfamiliar name. For 7-5 Iowa State however, it would be arguably the biggest games they had ever played. Despite rumblings during the days of preparation that the Irish were lacking motivation and not practicing particularly well, the game turned out to be a dominant ND performance.
Game MVP Chase Claypool sparkled with 7 catches good for 142 yards and a TD, Alohi Gilman started things off early with an impressive strip sack of Iowa State’s QB and Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah had 9 tackles, 4 for loss and 3 sacks. The Irish won in convincing fashion, 33-6.
Thus, the Irish end 2019 at 11-2 with a six-game winning streak and momentum.
Next season will start in Dublin, Ireland against Navy, later ND will travel to Lambeau Field in Green Bay to play Wisconsin. And in November potentially the biggest match up in years at home: an Clemson on November 7.
In a critical decision, Ian Book announced after the Bowl via twitter that he would be back for a 5th year. Alohi Gilman announced he was NFL bound, but several other players including Cole Kmet, Jovon McKinley, Shaun Crawford, and Tony Jones have decisions to make about coming back or starting NFL careers.
But a solid nucleus including 6 of the top 7 offensive lineman and a slew of budding stars on defense including Koramoah and Kyle Hamilton will definitely be back.
Notre Dame, with a 33-6 record over the last 3 seasons, many returning starters, and an excellent incoming class of recruits, have the look of a 2020 College football force to be reckoned with.
See you at the Blue Gold Game in April.