Notre Dame QB’s: Tommy Rees heads into the final game of his Notre Dame career with 2,938 passing yards on a 53.7 completion percentage with 27 passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His 27 touchdown passes are the most since Jimmy Clausen had 28 in the 2009 Notre Dame Football season. Andrew Hendrix enters what will likely be his final game in a Notre Dame uniform as rumors circulate that he is likely to transfer to Miami to be with new head coach (and former Notre Dame offensive coordinator) Chuck Martin. Hendrix has completed 2 of 14 passes for a 14.3 completion percentage and 56 passing yards along with 26 rushing yards and 1 rushing touchdown.
Notre Dame QB’s vs. Rutgers Pass Defense: Rutgers has the 122nd ranked pass defense that is the worst ranked pass defense that the Irish will face since the season opener against Temple (who is ranked 121st in the nation). Rutgers has allowed opponents to complete 64.1 percent of their passes and have allowed 31 passing touchdowns and have only intercepted 8 passes all season long with 311.4 passing yards allowed per game. Rutgers has allowed 400 or more passing yards in 4 games this season as well with 456 allowed against Fresno St., 484 allowed against SMU, 400 to Houston, and the highest being 507 to Cincinnati. Rutgers also had 4 other games where at at least 300 passing yards were allowed as well to give them 8 games overall with 300 or more passing yards allowed. Opponents were also accurate in these games as well with 4 games having opponents complete 70 percent or higher of their passes as well. This gives the Irish a lopsided matchup that could give Tommy Rees the best performance of the season in the passing game.
Edge: Notre Dame
Rutgers QB’s: Chas Dodd is expected to start after starting the last 2 games the season in place of previous starter Gary Nova. Dodd has appeared in 7 games overall this season and has completed 60 percent of his passes for 712 passing yards with 2 passing touchdowns, and has 3 interceptions. Gary Nova appeared in and started the first 10 games of the season and completed 54.5 percent of his passes for 2,159 passing yards with 18 passing touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Rutgers QB’s vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense: The Irish come in with the 18th ranked pass defense that has allowed opponents to complete 60.7 percent of their passes and have allowed 18 passing touchdowns and have 9 interceptions. While the defensive secondary for the Irish hasn’t been as good as they were in the 2012 season, the unit has done a decent job and only allowed 1 opponent to exceed 300 or more passing yards (Arizona St.). While the quarterback change for Rutgers might have helped considering Gary Nova having major turnover issues (He has thrown for 39 interceptions in his career in total over three seasons with 9 in 2011, 16 in 2012, and 14 this season), Chas Dodd still has more interceptions than touchdowns. The Irish should be able to do well against the Rutgers pass offense.
Edge: Notre Dame
Notre Dame RB’s: Cam McDaniel leads the Irish in rushing with 625 rushing yards on 135 attempts with 4.6 yards per rush and 3 rushing touchdowns. George Atkinson III has 555 rushing yards on 93 attempts for 6.0 yards per rush and 3 rushing touchdowns. Tarean Folston earned the Newcomer of the Year award for offense at the Notre Dame awards celebration that was in part to getting more and more playing time in the second half of the season for the Irish and on the season has 397 rushing yards on 71 attempts with a 5.6 yard average and 2 rushing touchdowns. Amir Carlisle has seen a reduced amount of playing time lately with 201 rushing yards on 46 carries for a 4.4 yard average.
Notre Dame RB’s vs. Rutgers Rush Defense: Rutgers is 4th in the nation in rush defense with 94.6 yards per game allowed and has held opponents to just 3.0 yards per rush, but they have allowed 15 rushing touchdowns this season. They did allow one opponent to rush for 211 yards which was a season high in yards allowed in the loss to Houston, and UCF was able to find the endzone easily on the ground with 4 rushing touchdowns. Rutgers is the third team this season that Notre Dame will face with a top 5 run defense with opponents Michigan St. and Stanford being 1st and 3rd, respectively. The Irish will likely stick to the main rotation of Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, and George Atkinson III, but look for Folston to continue to see more playing time.
Rutgers RB’s: Paul James leads the Scarlet Knights in rushing despite battling injuries. He has 833 rushing yards on 146 carries with 5.7 yards per rush and 9 rushing touchdowns. Justin Goodwin has 518 rushing yards on 108 attempts with a 4.8 yards per rush average and 5 rushing touchdowns. Savon Huggins has 279 rushing yards on 84 attempts with 3.3 yards per rush and 2 rushing touchdowns.
Rutgers RB’s vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense: The Irish are 76th in run defense and have numerous injuries up front on the defensive line and are without Louis Nix III since he is out for the season and has declared for the NFL Draft. In the four games Louis Nix III missed this season (Air Force, Navy, BYU, and Stanford), the Irish allowed more than 200 rushing yards each time, and have allowed 200 or more yards in 5 games this season. Rutgers has just the 98th ranked rush offense and the Irish should improve upon poor performances by the run defense after allowing back-to-back 200 or more yard games.
Notre Dame WR’s and TE’s: TJ Jones became the first Notre Dame player to have a 1,000 receiving yard season since Michael Floyd did in back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011. TJ Jones has been one of the most important parts of the offense and has had the best season in his Notre Dame career. On the season TJ Jones has 65 receptions for 1,042 receiving yards with 16.0 yards per catch and 9 receiving touchdowns. He also has 5 attempts on the ground for 51 rushing yards with a 10.2 yard average and 1 rushing touchdown. DaVaris Daniels has been really good for the Irish lately with 46 catches for 720 receiving yards on a 15.7 yard average and 7 receiving touchdowns with touchdowns in 3 consecutive games. Troy Niklas leads the tight ends with 422 receiving yards on 28 receptions and averages 15.1 yards a catch with 5 receiving touchdowns, while Ben Koyack has 9 catches for 158 receiving yards with 17.6 yards per catch and 3 receiving touchdowns. Chris Brown has 10 catches for 155 receiving yards with 1 receiving touchdown and 15.5 yards per catch, while Corey Robinson has 8 catches for 147 receiving yards with an average of 18.4 yards per catch and 1 receiving touchdown, and William Fuller has 6 catches for 160 receiving yards with an average of 26.7 yards per catch and 1 receiving touchdown.
Notre Dame WR’s vs. Rutgers DB’s: With the Rutgers pass defense being as low as it is in terms of ranking, and numerous playmakers in the receiving game for the Irish gives a major matchup nightmare here. Having 7 players with a long of 30 or more yards and 5 with 40 or more yards matches up well with a unit that has allowed 33 plays that were 25 or more yards and 90 plays of 15 or more yards. With numerous players capable of catching long passes and having done it more than one occasion this season gives the Irish more edge.
Edge: Notre Dame
Rutgers WR’s and TE’s: Tyler Kroft leads Rutgers in receiving with 40 receptions and 530 receiving yards with an average of 13.2 yards per catch and 4 touchdowns. Brandon Coleman has 32 catches for 473 receiving yards and has 3 touchdowns and 14.8 yards per reception, while Quron Pratt has 31 catches for 493 receiving yards and a 15.9 yard average. Leonte Carroo has 28 catches for 478 receiving yards with 9 receiving touchdowns and averages 17.1 yards per catch. Ruhann Peele has 26 receptions for 278 yards with a 10.7 yard average and 1 receiving touchdown. Michael Burton has 19 catches for 149 receiving yards with 2 receiving touchdowns and a 7.8 yard average.
Rutgers WR’s vs. Notre Dame DB’s: The Scarlet Knights have shown that they can spread the ball around as well with the top 4 receivers being close in terms of receiving yards. Leonte Carroo needs to be accounted for as he basically has a receiving touchdown every 3 receptions. The top 5 all are capable of catching longer passes with all 5 having a long reception of 40 or more yards and 6 players overall have a reception of 40 or more yards this season. Preventing the big play is going to be important as always and the Notre Dame secondary will have a boost with the return of Elijah Shumate and Eilar Hardy returning after missing the Stanford game.
Notre Dame OL: The Irish will be without Chris Watt for the Pinstripe Bowl due to injury and will be the third starting offensive lineman lost for the season this season. Despite this, the offensive line has been one of the best units for the Irish this season. Opponents have had a tough time getting to Tommy Rees with only 8 sacks allowed all season and have allowed 22 quarterback hurries and 50 tackles for loss. In terms of run blocking, the Irish average 4.5 yards per rush and 149.0 rushing yards per game.
Notre Dame OL vs. Rutgers DL: Rutgers has been decent in getting in sacks with 32 overall and they have 25 quarterback hurries and 76 tackles for loss. With Rutgers being good at getting into opposing backfields with the 76 tackles for loss, the Irish will need to keep that contained. Despite being down a few starters, the Irish have been able to do well despite losing players for the season and the offensive line should put in a good performance for the Irish.
Edge: Notre Dame
Rutgers OL: The Scarlet Knights came into this season with tremendous amounts of returning experience, but have had trouble keeping opponents out of the backfield this season with 31 sacks, 76 tackles for loss, and 30 quarterback hurries allowed. Run blocking hasn’t been as great with an average of 133.7 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per rush, but the unit has blocked decently with 17 rushing touchdowns.
Rutgers OL vs. Notre Dame DL: The Irish have only 17 sacks, but have 59 tackles for loss and 42 quarterback hurries. Most of the quarterback hurries come from Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo, who combine for 30 quarterback hurries alone. The Irish have been heavily banged up on the defensive line with only Stephon Tuitt being the only player to start every game this season. Despite this the Irish should be able to get pressure on Rutgers and make plays in the backfield
Edge: Notre Dame
Notre Dame DL: Out of all the units on the entire Notre Dame Football team, this one has suffered more injuries than the rest. Tony Springmann and Chase Hounshell were lost for the season before it even began and numerous others had injuries that forced them to miss time as well, and Louis Nix III missed time before eventually having season-ending surgery and declared for the NFL Draft. Stephon Tuitt has 45 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 1 interception (returned for a touchdown), 2 pass breakups, 13 quarterback hurries, and 1 forced fumble. Sheldon Day has 31 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 pass breakup, and 1 quarterback hurry, while Kona Schwenke has 21 tackles and 1 quarterback hurry. Jarron Jones continues to see more playing time and has 18 tackles, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 forced fumble and 2 blocked kicks, while Issac Rochell has 10 tackles.
Notre Dame DL vs. Rutgers OL: Rutgers has had problems keeping opposing teams out of their backfield and have had issues with quarterback pressure. This plays well into the strength the Irish have in pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Considering all of this, despite being down in injuries, the Irish will be able to make plays.
Edge: Notre Dame
Rutgers DL: Marcus Thompson has 46 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 4 quarterback hurries and 1 forced fumble for Rutgers. Darius Hamilton has 42 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 4 quarterback hurries, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 forced fumble. Djawny Mera has 32 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble, while David Milewski has 31 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup, 1 quarterback hurry, and 2 fumble recoveries.
Rutgers DL vs. Notre Dame OL: The Irish may be down a few players on the offensive line and Rutgers can get into the backfield with sacks and tackles for loss, and this is an area that needs to be focused on. The Irish have done well in bringing in the next player when one goes down, and having backups being prepared has been a major bonus in one of the best units for the Irish. Keeping Rutgers out of the backfield is going to be one of the biggest battles in this game.
Edge: Notre Dame
Notre Dame LB’s: The Irish have lost a couple of players here for the season to injury, with Jarrett Grace being the most notable player to be injured. Dan Fox leads the Irish in tackles with 90 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception (returned for a touchdown), 1 pass breakup, and 1 fumble recovery. Carlo Calabrese has 84 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup, and 1 fumble recovery. Jaylon Smith has been one of the best players for the Irish defense and is having an impressive season as a true freshman. Smith is third on the team in tackles with 61 and has 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 3 pass breakups, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 fumble recovery and 1 forced fumble. Prince Shembo brings in the pressure on opposing quarterbacks with 46 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 17 quarterback hurries, and 1 forced fumble. Kendall Moore has 17 tackles and 1 tackle for loss and Ishaq Williams has 16 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1 sack.
Notre Dame LB’s vs. Rutgers: Run support and pass rush will be important for the linebackers, while also covering tight end (and leading receiver) Tyler Kroft. Look for Jaylon Smith to continue to make plays and Prince Shembo to bring in quarterback pressure. The Irish will need strong play from the linebackers with injuries depleting up front on the defensive line.
Edge: Notre Dame
Rutgers LB’s: Steve Longa eads the Scarlet Knights in tackles with 111 and also has 7.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 2 quarterback hurries, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 forced fumbles. Kevin Snyder has 89 tackles 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and 3 quarterback hurries. Quentin Gause has 44 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup, and 1 quarterback hurry. Jamal merrell has 37 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 pass breakups, and 2 blocked kicks, while Quanzell Lambert has 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 quarterback hurries, and 1 forced fumble.
Rutgers LB’s vs. Notre Dame: The linebackers help make for a strong front seven for the Scarlet Knights. Considering the high ranking of the run defense of Rutgers, this will make it a bit of a challenge in running the ball. Rutgers will need to account for the tight ends of Notre Dame as well as they have made quite a few plays this season as well. Keeping the linebackers out of the backfield is also important as well with many having numerous tackles for loss.
Notre Dame DB’s: Bennett Jackson has 59 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions (1 returned for a touchdown), 3 pass breakups, 1 quarterback hurry, and 1 fumble recovery. KeiVarae Russell has 49 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, 1 quarterback hurry, and 1 fumble recovery. Matthias Farley has 49 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 interceptions, and 3 pass breakups. Austin Collinsworth has 39 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 2 quarterback hurries. Eilar Hardy has 25 tackles and 1 tackle for loss, while Elijah Shumate has 23 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 pass breakup.
Notre Dame DB’s vs. Rutgers WR’s: Preventing the big play is going to be very important with quite a few players for the Scarlet Knights being able to catch long passes. Rutgers can spread the ball well too which also must be accounted for. The defensive backs are going to be back to full strength for the Pinstripe Bowl and this helps in the matchup here.
Rutgers DB’s: Lorenzo Waters has 50 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 4 pass breakups, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 forced fumbles. Jeremy Deering has 39 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup, while Tejay Johnson has 35 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, and 3 pass breakups. Gareef Glashen has 34 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup, and 1 quarterback hurry. Nadir Barnwell has 31 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 pass breakups and 1 fumble recovery, while Davon Jacobs has 30 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and 1 quarterback hurry. Anthony Cioffi has 28 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 blocked kick.
Rutgers DB’s vs. Notre Dame WR’s: The secondary for Rutgers has been one of the worst units in the nation when it comes to defending the pass. With the Irish coming in with a talented group of receivers that all are capable of having big games and catching long passes will make for a major challenge for the Scarlet Knights secondary. This is a perfect game for Notre Dame to continue using the true freshmen in addition to TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels and Chris Brown.
Edge: Notre Dame
Notre Dame Kicking Game: Kyle Brindza is 15 of 20 on field goals with a long of 53 and is 3 of 4 when it is 50 or more yards with 1 blocked. Kyle Brindza averages 41.3 yards per punt on 42 punts with a long of 56 with 3 touchbacks, 13 fair caught, 7 inside the 20, 7 of 50 or more yards, and 1 has been blocked. Alex Wulfeck averages 33.7 yards per punt on 7 punts with a long of 49 with 1 touchback, 3 fair caught, and 6 inside the 20. Kyle Brindza averages 63.6 yards per kickoff on 67 kickoffs with 33 touchbacks.
Rutgers Kicking Game: Kyle Federico has made 9 of 15 field goals for Rutgers with a long of 48 and has had 2 kicks blocked. Nick Marsh averages 40.3 yards per punt on 62 punts with a long of 58 with 9 touchbacks, 19 fair caught, 21 inside the 20, and 9 of 50 or more yards. Nick Marsh averages 61.3 yards on kickoffs on 60 kickoffs with just 12 touchbacks.
Stronger Unit: Notre Dame
Notre Dame Return Game: George Atkinson III averages 25.2 yards per kickoff return on 31 kickoffs for 780 yards with a long of 50. Cam McDaniel has returned 8 kickoffs for 137 yards with a 17.1 yard average and a long of 26.
Rutgers Return Game: The return game has been a strength for the Scarlet Knights this season with 2 different players each returning a kickoff for a touchdown and 1 punt return touchdown as well. Janarion Grant has returned 18 kickoffs for 390 yards with a 21.7 yard average, 1 touchdown, and a long of 100 yards. Quron Pratt has returned 14 kickoffs for 372 yards for an average of 26.6 yards per return, 1 touchdown, and a long of 99 yards. Janarion Grant has 17 punt returns for 156 yards with a 9.2 yard average, 1 touchdown, and a long of 58 yards.
Stronger Unit: Rutgers
Everything Else: The Irish are coming off a close loss at Stanford to give the Irish a regular season finish of 8-4, while Rutgers beat USF to finish 6-6 and become bowl eligible. Despite losing offensive and defensive coordinators Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco to Miami and Uconn as head coaches, the Irish should still be fine as Rutgers fired a few members on the coaching staff. The Irish should try to stay balanced on offense, but with Rutgers having a major weakness in pass defense, this looks like a great opportunity for making plays in the air. Injuries have mounted this season for the Irish, and especially on the defensive line and getting out of the bowl game injury free will help as well and the playing time for the backups has proven to valuable along with the additional practices that going to a bowl game offers. Winning this bowl game would help give the Irish a more positive shift in momentum going into the 2014 season that will feature the return of Everett Golson at quarterback.
Prediction: Notre Dame 44, Rutgers 13