Pinstripe Bowl Primer: Notre Dame vs. Rutgers
By Joe Jenkins
Notre Dame (8-4) vs. Rutgers (6-6)
Notre Dame returns to the site of the "Win One for the Gipper" speech and the first of many games dubbed "The Game of the Century."
Sort of. Only bar league softball games get played at the site of the "Win One for the Gipper" game these days.
Instead, The Fighting Irish get to play across the street from where the "Game of the Century" between Army and Notre Dame was played in 1946. Close enough.
Thank the Big 12 for the homecoming with history. The conference didn't have enough bowl-eligible teams to supply one to the Pinstripe Bowl, allowing Notre Dame with its large contingent of New York City alumni to jump right in.
It's a far cry from the BCS Championship game the Fighting Irish were in last year, but after that game's outcome, just playing in a winnable bowl game is probably welcome. They've lost their last two by a combined score of 60-28.
Rutgers is looking to win their second Pinstripe Bowl in three years. They beat Iowa State, 27-13, in 2011.
Don't expect a huge contingent of Scarlet Knights fans at the-house-next-door-to-the-house-that-Ruth-built. New Yorkers love New Jersey for three things: Frank Sinatra, Jon Bon Jovi and cheap gas they don't have to pump themselves. Rutgers doesn't make the cut, especially in a year where the team had a sub-.500 record in conference play.
Motivation: In a calendar year that has gifted the Fighting Irish with the Alabama beatdown in January, followed by the academic suspension of starting quarterback Everett Golson, Brian Kelly likely will be happy to sneak out of 2013 with a nine-win season and a finish in the Top 25, which has only happened five times for Notre Dame since the turn of the century.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: The Irish have a talented tandem at wide receiver in TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels. The two combined for 111 receptions, 1,762 yards and 16 touchdowns. They'll need to perform well because Notre Dame struggled to run the ball in 2013, finishing in the bottom third in the nation in rushing yards per game at 149.
The defensive unit is still fairly stingy when it comes to giving up points; only four teams were able to score more than 30 against the Golden Domers this year.
Weakness: When quarterback Tommy Rees is good, the Irish tend to flourish. When Rees is bad (and when he is, he's awful) the boys from South Bend struggle since they're unable to run the ball. Rees' battle with consistency has been the biggest issue for the Irish this year. His total adjusted QBR has been as high as 95 and as low as 20.4.
On the defensive end, Notre Dame hasn't created turnovers the way it did in 2012. It's what's prevented the Fighting Irish from winning all of the close games the way they did during their run to the BCS Championship.
Motivation: A win over a Top 25 team is just what Rutgers is hoping for to close out its one-year run in the AAC. A victory would put the Scarlet Knights above .500 for the year and give the team a bit of momentum as it moves to the Big Ten in 2014.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: Rutgers struggled to find an offensive identity all season. The Scarlet Knights were worse at running the ball than Notre Dame at just 133 yards per game and mediocre at best when throwing the ball. Head coach Kyle Flood's decision to replace quarterback Gary Nova with Chas Dodd late in the season didn't exactly breathe new life into the offense, but it seemed to cure the turnover bug a bit. Nova threw 10 interceptions in his last five games as a starter.
Defensively, Rutgers is efficient at stopping the run. Opposing offenses average under 100 yards per game against them. Linebacker Steve Longa is the best athlete the Scarlet Knights have on either side of the ball.
Weakness: Most teams don't run much against Rutgers because they don't have to. The Scarlet Knights have one of the worst passing defenses in the country, hemorrhaging more than 330 yards per game through the air.
Rutgers struggles with consistency on offense just like Notre Dame, as evidenced by its late-season quarterback change. The team scored more than 50 points twice this season, but also failed to score more than 20 in five different games.
Las Vegas Hilton Line: Notre Dame -14.5.