New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Notre Dame 29, Rutgers 16
Basically … Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals and TJ Jones and Tarean Folston ran for short scores as Notre Dame got by the Scarlet Knights in an entertaining game that was expected to be a big blowout. Rutgers answered the Jones eight-yard score with a 14-yard Brandon Coleman touchdown catch late in the first quarter to tie it at 10, and the two went into the locker room tied at 13. It was all Notre Dame in the second half, outscoring the Scarlet Knights 13 to 3 and dominating, but failing to turn the game into a blowout as the Rutgers D stiffened time and again.
- Notre Dame outgained Rutgers 494 yards to 236. The Irish forced four turnovers and gave away just one.
- Time of possession: Notre Dame 38:16 – Rutgers 21:44
- Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees completed 27-of-47 passes for 319 yards
- Rutgers QB Chas Dodd completed 10-of-28 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown with three picks.
- Notre Dame PK Kyle Brindza connected on five of six field goal attempts hitting from 21, 38, 26, 25 and 49 yards out, missing from 44 yards away. He also punted once for 34 yards.
- Rutgers SS Lorenzo Waters made 12 tackles with a tackle for loss.
- Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt made four tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss.
Notre Dame (8-4) vs. Rutgers (6-6) Dec. 28, 12:00, ESPN
Here's The Deal … Neither Notre Dame nor Rutgers is pleased by its regular season results. Both, though, are intrigued by the prospect of wrapping up the year in the Bronx.
At this time last year, the unbeaten Irish were preparing for Alabama and a crack at a national championship. The prize and the venue have certainly changed over the course of a year. Sure, Notre Dame had its moments in 2013, handing Big Ten champ Michigan State its only loss, while beating the Pac-12's Arizona State and USC in back-to-back weeks. Still, the program missed suspended QB Everett Golson, particularly when the passing game stumbled in losses to Michigan, Oklahoma, Pitt and Stanford. The Irish are clinging to a spot in the AP Top 25, which it hopes to maintain with a victory at Yankee Stadium.
The Scarlet Knights are fortunate to still be playing football. They went 2-5 to close out the regular season, needing a win over South Florida on Dec. 7 just to achieve bowl-eligibility. Against the tougher teams in the American, Rutgers wilted, losing by no fewer than 14 points to Louisville, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF. The recent collapse, both on the field and in recruiting, has begun to weigh heavily on Kyle Flood. The coach, who's already canned three assistants, would greatly benefit from an upset of a nationally-recognized opponent.
Players to Watch: Neither of these two programs has gotten much consistency out of the quarterback position in 2013. Golson successor Tommy Rees has thrown too many costly picks, often showing why he was always best suited for coming off the bench. The situation was even direr in Piscataway, where Gary Nova and Chas Dodd have combined to throw 17 interceptions. Dodd, on the heels of an efficient effort to close out the regular season, has earned the right to start the final game of his career.
Poor weather and even poorer play from the passing attack will compel Floyd to liberally use RB Paul James, who's as healthy as he's been in months. Before injuring his leg in Week 4, the sophomore was leading the nation in rushing. James will look to recapture his early-season form against a Notre Dame defense missing big Louis Nix at nose tackle. Picking up the slack in run defense will be a solid corps of veteran linebackers that includes Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox and Prince Shembo. The group's future star is true freshman Jaylon Smith, who was every bit as good as advertised in his South Bend debut.
Rutgers is vulnerable up front, but can the Irish capitalize? The Scarlet Knights have yielded 31 sacks, contributing to the problems on offense. However, only two Irish players, Shembo and DE Stephon Tuitt, have notched more than one sack all season. And both of those pass-rushers underachieved during the regular season. Shembo and Tuitt will not only benefit their team, but also their NFL future if they're able to beat Rutgers tackles Keith Lumpkin and Taj Alexander off the edge and into Dodd's line of sight.
Rees has one big advantage on Saturday—he gets to face an overmatched Rutgers secondary. The young Scarlet Knights have given up 31 touchdown passes, while ranking 122nd nationally in pass defense. Life gets no easier for the defensive backfield with a date versus the Notre Dame receivers. Team MVP T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels give the Irish a presence on the outside, and tight ends Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack are threats over the middle. All four players have caught at least three touchdown passes this year and will be difficult for Rutgers to contain.
Notre Dame will win if … Rees excels at being a game manager.
Basically, the Irish need their quarterback to play mistake-free football in order to avoid Rutgers' upset bid. When Rees is careless and forces throws into traffic, he can be the great equalizer for opponents with inferior talent. In fact, he threw at least two picks in five games, four of which were Notre Dame losses. The lone win was a 38-34 nail-biter with Navy. Rees simply needs to be the distributor, protecting the ball, while putting his teammates in a position to exploit a porous Knight defense.
Rutgers will win if … James is this year's Prince-Tyson Gulley.
Gulley was the unlikely star of last year's snowy Pinstripe Bowl, leading Syracuse to an upset of West Virginia with 208 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. James needs to be that guy for the Scarlet Knights on Saturday. He's capable, especially now that he's had three weeks of rest to heal the leg injury that felled him in September. Notre Dame was not the same team against the run after Nix suffered a knee injury, yielding more than 500 combined yards to BYU and Stanford. James will have to carry the offense, limiting the number of times that Dodd is forced to drop back on third-and-long.
What Will Happen: As long as Brian Kelly keeps his kids properly motivated, Notre Dame doesn't figure to be challenged beyond halftime.
Rutgers is in disarray; problems at quarterback, changes on the staff and an inability to stop the pass. The Irish will capitalize, even though the event isn't quite what it was last winter. The maligned Rees will play well in his final game with the program, maximizing the talent of his receivers. Dodd, on the other, playing from behind is a recipe for turnovers and ill-advised throws. The Knights will close the year much the way they started it, disappointed and grasping for long-term answers.
Prediction: Notre Dame 35 … Rutgers 16
Line: Notre Dame -15.5 o/u: 52.5
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