Notre Dame didn’t have the season it hoped for but will have a chance to end it on a positive note versus Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. The 8-4 Irish will travel to Yankee Stadium as the vastly more talented team as Rutgers struggled this season and is in a transition period with many changes being made in the coaching department. The Irish will also be healthier than they’ve been in some time thanks to the month off which will only help them get the job done.
The following are the key matchups Notre Dame must win to defeat the Scarlet Knights:
Carlo Calabrese versus Paul James
Notre Dame’s second leading tackler Carlo Calabrese will be playing his final game for the Irish in the Pinstripe Bowl. The fifth-year senior will have some added motivation as a New Jersey native playing against Rutgers. Calabrese is Notre Dame’s best run stuffing linebacker and will be in charge of slowing down Paul James. James leads the Scarlet Knights in rushing by over 300 yards despite playing in only eight games this season. James is a junior and is a balanced back with solid power and speed who netted 833 rushing yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Dan Fox versus Tyler Kroft
Another Irish linebacker playing his final game will be Dan Fox. Fox leads the Irish in tackles this season with 90 while also adding an interception and a rumble recovery. The fifth-year senior draws a tough assignment versus Rutgers in their 6’6’’ tight end Tyler Kroft. Kroft is the Scarlet Knights leading receiver with 40 receptions for 530 yards and four touchdowns. With his tremendous height Kroft is extremely hard to cover and will be looked to heavily by Rutgers to make plays on third down and in the red zone.
The Irish running backs versus Steve Longa
The stable of Notre Dame running backs will look to finish the season off strong versus Steve Longa and the Scarlet Knights defense. The three pronged attack of Tarean Folston, Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III had their struggles this season but can end on a positive note in New York. Standing in their way will be second-team freshman All-American Steve Longa. Longa is a tackling machine from his inside linebacker spot totalling 111 this season. Longa will be flying around the field looking to make plays so the Irish backs will need to set the tone and be physical.
T.J. Jones versus Lorenzo Waters
Notre Dame’s leading receiver T.J. Jones is another Irish player who will be playing their final game in the Pinstripe Bowl. Jones was Notre Dame’s MVP this season and the Irish captain has been the symbol of consistency in the up and down offense. Jones will be facing double teams most of the game against Rutgers and Lorenzo Waters will be a part of those. Waters is a solid safety who was tied for the team lead in pass defenses and breakups to go along with 50 tackles, good for third on the team.