Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Rutgers Takes on The Irish

Jeff Zelevansky

Can the Scarlet Knights keep up with the talent of the Irish?

For so long, Rutgers fans wanted to get to the BCS and be in the national spotlight. It's ironic that after one of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory, RU is treated to their most high-profile opponent yet. After a 6-6 season with plenty of ups and downs, the Scarlet Knights have a date with the cream of the college football crop - Notre Dame. Of course, I'm strictly speaking in prestigious and traditional terms, as the Fighting Irish have not had the best year on the gridiron either. Let's take a look at how the two teams stack up.

The Matchup

Defensively, Notre Dame has taken a big step back from its championship level unit from just one season ago. The Irish are 45th in the nation in total defense, giving up 377 yards per game. Bob Diaco was great against the pass this year, giving up just over 200 yards through the air, but struggled against the run. His unit was 76th in the nation, surrendering 175 yards per game on the ground. That's good news for a healthy Paul James and Justin Goodwin. Even better news is that Bob Diaco won't even be on the sidelines tomorrow. The former defensive coordinator leveraged his good standing as an assistant into the head coaching position at UConn. Still, the NFL talent on Notre Dame's defensive line will still give Rutgers a hard time in the passing game. Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt are probable first-rounders in the NFL Draft, and they'll look to increase their stock in what will be their final collegiate game.

Offensively, the Irish lose their coordinator here as well. The effect will be diminished, however. Losing Chuck Martin will likely lead to some procedural issues, but the offense won't change much considering it's Brian Kelly's offense anyway. He's the offensive mind behind many of his great offenses over the years, including turning Tony Pike into a long-shot Heisman candidate in 2009. Tommy Rees had another uneven year as he always does, but he can run the spread well enough to give interim-defensive coordinator Joe Rossi fits. Rees threw 13 interceptions this year, which would make you believe that a typical Rutgers defense could take advantage of the turnover battle. We do not have a typical Rutgers defense this year. Low on turnovers forced and high on yards allowed, it's possible that Rees can have a career game if RU can't fix what ails them by noon tomorrow. Rossi intends to bring a more aggressive scheme back to the defense, which could help light a spark under the maligned unit. Speed is what the defense is built on, so expect more unconventional linebacker blitz packages. If they can rattle Rees, that's a good start to forcing a bad pick. They'll also need to contain senior wideout T.J. Jones. The six-foot veteran WR caught 65 balls for 1042 yards this year, including nine touchdowns. Rutgers has had trouble containing go-to receivers this season, so the Darius Hamilton and Marcus Thompson need to get to the QB to prevent any chance of letting Jones run wild.

For the Knights, it's Chas Dodd's day. He seems to play well at Yankee Stadium, with wins over Army and Iowa State under his belt. The running game should be the main attraction offensively for RU, considering Notre Dame is a lot better at defending the pass and we have a stud in Paul James. With the Pinstripe Bowl being the final game of the season, expect Flood to open up the playbook:

It's most likely Brandon Coleman's last game in Scarlet, and he's been quiet for much of the season, so it's possible he shoots to increase his draft stock as well. Another possible early draftee is Kaleb Johnson. After an uneven year, however, it seems unlikely he'll declare.

The Prediction

All signs point to a sold-out Yankee Stadium for Rutgers versus Notre Dame. This is a tough one to predict with both schools' history playing in bowl games: Notre Dame underachieves, Rutgers overachieves (albeit against lesser competition). I think Rutgers will compete with the Golden Domers, but comes up short in the end. The Irish get lucky, 28-20.

What do you think? Post your predictions below!

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