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Notre Dame, Rutgers matchup a big hit at Yankee Stadium
A New York City triumvirate of Babe Ruth, Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z could not have come up with a better matchup for the Pinstripe Bowl than Notre Dame (8–4) and Rutgers (6–6, 3–5 American). Call your own shot and start spreading the news because Yankee Stadium will be in an Empire State of mind when the Fighting Irish take on the Scarlet Knights at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx.
This will be Notre Dame’s first appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl, which will host its fourth game since arriving on the bowl landscape in 2010. It has been a long fall for the Golden Domers, who lost 42–14 to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game last season. The dip in on-field product was somewhat expected following the unexpected academic suspension of quarterback Everett Golson and the graduation of Butkus Award winning linebacker Manti Te’o.
Rutgers and Syracuse have alternated victories in the brief history of the Pinstripe Bowl. And it’s the Scarlet Knights’ turn again this year. SU beat Kansas State, 36–34, in 2010 and West Virginia, 38–14, last year. RU knocked off Iowa State, 27–13, in 2011 and hope to pull off one of the major upsets of the postseason against Notre Dame this year.
The series history, much like the Las Vegas betting line, heavily favors Notre Dame. The Irish are 4–0 against the Knights, with a 197–17 all-time combined margin of victory — including a 42–0 humiliation in their most recent meeting in 2002.
Notre Dame vs. Rutgers
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 28 at 12:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Notre Dame -14
Notre Dame’s Key to Victory: Exploit Rutgers’ Pass Defense
The McCourty Twins are not walking through that door. Unlike the NFL-caliber defensive backs of recent Rutgers memory, this year’s Scarlet Knights have been abused through the air. Opponents of RU have completed 64.1 percent of their passes for 3,737 yards, 31 TDs and eight INTs. Rutgers’ pass defense has allowed an average of 311.4 yards per game — more than the averages of either Louisville (302.9 ypg) or Oregon (294.7 ypg), pass-happy teams with Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota, respectively, running the shows. The Scarlet Knights’ pass defense ranks 120th in yards allowed. Only five teams allowed more passing TDs — Idaho (40), Colorado State (33), Wyoming (32), UAB (32) and California (32).
That’s good news for Notre Dame team MVP TJ Jones, who has 65 catches for 1,042 yards (16.0 ypc) and nine TDs this season — team highs in each category. Jones is just the seventh Irish wideout to top the 1,000-yard mark in a single season, joining Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, Jeff Samardzija, Maurice Stovall, Tom Gatewood and Jack Snow. Neither Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown nor Rocket Ismail topped 1,000 yards in a single season. Expect ND quarterback Tommy Rees to look Jones’ way early and often against a RU secondary that has been overmatched by less talented wideouts thus far.
Rutgers’ Key to Victory: Chas Dodd Masterpiece
The senior quarterback became more famous for his art than his football after being benched for the better part of two seasons. But Dodd is back under center for the Scarlet Knights, replacing Gary Nova for the final two games of the season — a 28–17 loss at Connecticut and a 31–6 win over South Florida to clinch a berth in the Pinstripe Bowl. Over his first two seasons at RU, the South Carolina native and former Byrnes High School star threw for 21 TDs and 14 INTs. He lost the job to local Don Bosco (N.J.) legend Nova in 2012, attempting (and completing) just one pass.
This season, Dodd had just 46 pass attempts in mop-up duty before taking over for the final two games, throwing a combined two TDs and two INTs with a 1–1 record. If Rutgers has any chance to pull off the upset, Dodd will have to play the game of his life. And he may have to do so without the Knights’ top wideout, sophomore Leonte Carroo, who is listed as doubtful with an upper-body injury. Carroo had 28 catches for 478 yards (17.1) and nine of the teams 21 receiving TDs in only nine games played this season.
Key Player: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s strength over the past two seasons has been its interior defensive line, most notably Tuitt and nose guard Louis Nix III (a.k.a. “Irish Chocolate”). But with Nix III out for the season with a torn meniscus and out of the college game for good after recently signing with an agent, the burden falls to Tuitt. The 6’7”, 312-pound junior out of Monroe, Ga., may very well be playing in his final game for the Fighting Irish before heading to the NFL. Notre Dame will need Tuitt to be a terror in the trenches against a Rutgers offense with a quarterback controversy and the 97th ranked rushing offense.
Brian Kelly has a 1–2 record in bowl games at Notre Dame, but he was 2–1 at Cincinnati and has also sat out two bowl games — after leading Central Michigan to the Motor City Bowl in 2006 and Cincinnati to the Sugar Bowl in 2009. Prior to stepping up to the FBS, Kelly won back-to-back Division II national championships at Grand Valley State. On the other sideline, Kyle Flood is making just his second bowl appearance in his second season since taking over at Rutgers for Greg Schiano. Last year, the Scarlet Knights lost a heartbreaker 13–10 to Virginia Tech in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl.
Expect this year’s Pinstripe Bowl to be green and gold. The Fighting Irish faithful will take over Yankee Stadium and the Golden Domers will crush the Scarlet Knights.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Rutgers 10