Bronx, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Although the stakes will be lower than last
year, the stage remains prestigious, as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on
the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the Pinstripe Bowl at New Yankee Stadium.
A year ago at this time Notre Dame was preparing for the BCS National Title
game against Alabama, while dealing with some off-field controversy involving
star linebacker Manti Te'o.
There is not as much fanfare this time around. The Irish finished the 2013
regular season at a solid 8-4, with marquee wins over Michigan State, Arizona
State and USC. However, this year's results have clearly not lived up to the
12-0 mark the Irish had heading into last year's postseason.
"I don't know what goes into that kind of thinking. We have to prepare our
football team. We want to win for our program to get to nine wins," Notre Dame
head coach Brian Kelly said of his mind-set about a bowl game considered a
step down for his program. " If we don't play well, (Rutgers will) beat us. We
have everything to lose. We want to win the football game."
The good news is the Irish have remained competitive under Brian Kelly. He is
the first head coach in program history to bring the Irish to a bowl game in
his first four seasons. However, for a program heralded as one of the greatest
in the nation, the Irish haven't always proven it come the postseason. In
their 33 previous bowl appearances they are just 15-17, including losses in 11
of the last 13.
The final campaign for Rutgers, before joining the Big Ten next season, was an
eventful but ultimately mediocre one. The Scarlet Knights were involved in two
thrilling overtime matchups with a 52-51 loss to Fresno State and a 55-52
triple overtime victory over SMU. However they also dropped lost five of their
final seven contest to close out the schedule at just 6-6 overall and 3-5 in
American Athletic Conference play. It was quite a step backwards for a program
that has had at least eight wins in six of the last seven seasons. That
doesn't mean the head coach Kyle Flood doesn't appreciate the stage his team
will be playing on.
"It's a really attractive matchup," Flood said. "It will certainly be an
attractive matchup for their fan base and I think it will attractive to just
the casual college sports fan that wants to see an event and to get an
opportunity to go watch a football game in Yankee Stadium, one of the premiere
venues in the world."
Flood has continued the renaissance for the Scarlet Knights that began under
Greg Schiano. The Scarlet Knights had been to just one bowl game before 2005,
but have been to one in eight of the last nine years. They are 5-2 in those
postseason showings, though they were dropped by Virginia Tech, in overtime,
(13-10) last year in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
In four all-time meetings with Rutgers, Notre Dame has never lost. The most
recent matchup between them occurred in 2002. Spectators at the Pinstripe Bowl
will certainly be hoping for a more even contest than that 42-0 rout.
Rutgers was not one of the more productive offensive teams in the AAC. The
Scarlet Knights ranked seventh in the conference in total offense (375.9 ypg)
and fifth in scoring (27.4 ppg).
The struggles on offense eventually forced Flood to slot in Chas Dodd at
starting quarterback. Dodd started in the last two games of the season. In
those two games he amassed 465 yards, two touchdowns and as many
interceptions, while completing 59.3 percent of his pass attempts. Gary Nova
(165-of-303, 2,159 yards, 18 TDs, 14 INTs) spent the bulk of the season as the
starter but his tendency to force throws often led to mistakes, and eventually
a loss of his job.
Dodd may be without one of his top targets in this bout. Leonte Carroo (28
receptions, 478 yards, nine TDs) made a name for himself as a big-play
receiver but missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. He remains
questionable for this contest. That will leave more opportunities for tight
end Tyler Kroft (40 receptions, 530 yards, four TDs), who saw a boost in his
numbers once Dodd got more playing time. Quron PRatt (31 receptions, 493
yards) and Brandon Coleman (32 receptions, 473 yards, three TDs) should also
Paul James (833 yards, nine TDs) seemed to reclaim the starting running back
role in the season finale against South Florida. The Scarlet Knights' lead
rushing missed four games in the middle of the season but had 113 yards and
two scores on 26 carries against the Bulls. Justin Goodwin (518 yards, five
TDs) will provide fresh legs when James is subbed out.
There is a great deal of talent on the defensive side for Rutgers, led by
linebacker Steve Longa, who led the nation in tackles by a freshman (111).
Kevin Snyder (89 tackles) is another sturdy player in the linebacking corps,
while Marcus Thompson (5.5 sacks) is the top pass rusher. However the Scarlet
Knights were not as strong a unit as they were a year ago. Last season they
ranked 10th in total defense nationally, but fell to 69th (409 ypg) in 2013.
There was not a great deal of excitement on the offensive side of the ball for
Notre Dame this season. The ever-traditional program held fast to a pro-style
system that netted 27.1 points and 398.5 yards per game. The Irish ranked 75th
nationally in each category.
Tommy Rees managed to hold onto the starting job at quarterback all season,
after last year's starter, Everett Golson, left the team last spring for
academic violations. Rees did not provide the same element to the running game
as Golson, but was solid enough, producing 2,938 yards and 27 touchdowns to 13
interceptions. Rees was not a consistent enough passer though, completing just
53.7 percent of his pass attempts. In fact in five games he completed less
than half of his pass attempts.
It is no secret who Rees will be trying to get the ball to during this
contest. All season long TJ Jones (65 receptions, 1,042 yards, nine TDs) has
been the go-to option. Jones leads the team in receptions, yards and
touchdowns through the air. DaVaris Daniels (46 receptions, 720 yards, seven
TDs) helped out as well, along with tight end Troy Niklas (28 receptions, 422
yards, five TDs).
The Irish have not relied on just a single back when running the ball. Cam
McDaniel (659 yards, three TDs), George Atkinson III (555 yards, three TDs)
and Tarean Folston (397 yards, two TDs) have all gotten their fair share of
opportunities this season.
On the defensive side of the ball the Irish were much more effective. They
held opponents to 22.9 points and 377 yards per game. However the team
struggled to get a ton of pressure, with only 17 tacks and 59 tackles for
loss. That effort wasn't helped with Louis Nix missing four of the final five
games with a knee injury. He will be out for the bowl game as well. That has
left a lot on the shoulders of defensive end Stephon Tuitt (7.5 TFL, 6.0
sacks) and linebacker Prince Shembo (5.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks).
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