Christmas is around the corner and while we are all preparing for presents, holiday dinners, and eggnog, the Notre Dame Football team is in New York City making their final preparations to take on Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The Irish and the Scarlet Knights will face off in iconic Yankee Stadium on Saturday in the Big Apple. The Irish enter the contest with an 8-4 record while the Scarlet Knights finished their season at 6-6. Both teams have lost key members of their coaching staff in the weeks leading up to the matchup. Bob Diaco and Chuck Martin left the Irish to take head coaching positions at UConn and Miami of Ohio, while Rutgers head coach fired defensive coordinator Dave Cohen, as well as the quarterbacks coach, and the offensive line coach. While playing in the Pinstripe Bowl was not what the Irish had planned at the start of the season, they still have a chance to finish the season with 9 wins and carry momentum into the 2014 season.
Rutgers offense has had trouble running the ball as season long and relies on the passing game to score points. The Scarlet Knights are averaging 242 yards through the air ranking 52nd nationally, while the running game is averaging a measly 133 yards per game ranking 98th nationally. The offensive line for Rutgers has been a weak link all season long. Not only is the rushing game one of the worst in the country, but the Scarlet Knights have also given up 31 sacks this season which ranks them 98th nationally in sacks allowed. Even with Louis Nix unable to play due to injury, the Irish defensive line led by Stephon Tuitt should be able to have a field day with the Rutgers offensive line. With Rutgers struggling to run the football, expect the Scarlet Knights to pass and pass often allowing the strong Irish defensive line to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback. The strength of the Irish defense is stopping the pass, as they rank in the top 20 nationally. The matchup between the Irish secondary and the Scarlet Knights passing game could very well be the key this game.
While the Irish offense has struggled at times this year with execution and consistency, they should be able to move the ball and put points on the board against a very shaky Rutgers defense. The Scarlet Knights are allowing close to 30 points per game ranking them as one of the worst scoring defenses in the nation. To make matters worst for Rutgers, their passing defense is flat out atrocious allowing 310 yards per game. Only Troy, Idaho, and Cal are worst at defending the pass in the nation this season. Tommy Rees and the receiving corps should be able to throw the ball at will against this awful passing defense. Rutgers game plan is to try and shut down TJ Jones, so look for Davaris Daniels, Will Fuller, and Corey Robinson to make an impact on this game. The Irish are going to need to pass the ball effectively to win this game, since the Rutgers rushing defense is one of the best in the nation. The Scarlet Knights are ranked 4th nationally in rushing defense allowing only 94 yards on the ground per game. Only Michigan State, Louisville, and Stanford are better at stopping the run this season. Notre Dame has had trouble rushing the ball against quality rushing defenses this season but they are going to need to find some production to keep the Rutgers defense honest.
Notre Dame is a heavy favorite in this game and they should be. Rutgers is not a very good football team and this year has been a rough one already costing three assistant coaches their jobs, and head coach Kyle Flood is on the hot seat. The Irish have the advantage in almost every key matchup in this game and I fully expect the Irish to come to play in this game. While the season has not gone the way they had hoped, they still have the ability to win 9 games this season following a slue of injuries and without Everett Golson, who has recently been readmitted and will be ready to go for next season. This is the last game for the Notre Dame seniors, who as a group have been the foundation for the improvement in the program over the last 4-5 years. Playing in New York City is always exciting for college kids and you can tell by the reaction of many of the players they are ready to play in this game. While 2013 has been an awful year for Notre Dame Athletics, Irish fans should be able to finish this snake bitten year off with a smile. Notre Dame should win this game and it shouldn’t be close.
Players to Watch
Offense- While Rutgers is going to do everything they can to slow down TJ Jones, Davaris Daniels is due for a breakout game. After some early success to start the season, Daniels has since been inconstant and not producing at the level a lot of fans had hoped for. Look for Tommy Rees to find Daniels running through the Rutgers secondary as they try to double team TJ Jones.
Defense- With Louis Nix officially gone for the NFL we now get to see if Jarron Jones cant carry to load at Nose Tackle. Jones has played well late in this season and now we get a glimpse at what is most likely the future at the nose next season. The Rutgers offensive line has struggled this season so I am excited to see how Jones handles the opportunity.
Notre Dame 38 Rutgers 17
From all of us at Down the Tunnel, we wish you a Merry Christmas. Go Irish