It was all one big tease. All game long, it felt as if Rutgers was just one play away from taking over momentum. Perhaps it was lost on Kyle Flood's decision to kick on fourth and goal inside the five. Or maybe it was the horrendous halfback pass from Justin Goodwin that sapped the energy from the offense. In any case, the Scarlet Knights put on a decent show for a couple of quarters before imploding in the second half. Maybe implode is too harsh a word, but Rutgers definitely wasn't competitive from the beginning of the third quarter until the end of the game.
The biggest storylines offensively were Chas Dodd's keepers, a Brandon Coleman catch, and Paul James finding some running room for one drive. Dodd was his typical scrappy self today, but his passing game left much to be desired. He finished with ten completions on 28 attempts with one touchdown and two interceptions (one wasn't his fault). The aforementioned pass to Coleman early in the first half was his best play:
Aside from that pass and a TD following that drive, it was a day to forget. Interestingly enough, Ron Prince decided to ignore the running game early on, with Paul James getting a legitimate drive late in the game at about 12 minutes to go in the fourth. He mustered a tough 48 yards on ten carries, which is much better than the 2.9 team average. The difference was easy to see: Notre Dame has blue-chip talent on both sides of the line, and it showed when Rutgers could neither contain the pass rush not engineer a pass rush. Tommy Rees had a clean uniform for the entire day, and it was rare that anyone wearing a Block R helmet got close to him. The vaunted run defense of Rutgers was pushed aside as well. The Irish put up a staggering 175 yards on 43 carries on a Scarlet Knight defense that averages less than 100 yards rushing allowed per game.
It's simply a talent problem. Rutgers has always recruited undersized defensive lineman due to the caliber of players who would come to Rutgers, and the defense was therefore built on speed. When you play against a program that has four-star talent across the board, that speed becomes diminished against the sheer size of the opposing team. Whether or not Kyle Flood keeps this scheme going forward is up in the air, but so is his status as head coach going past next season. That is a debate left for another day.
Even considering the final score, you can find some promise for the future. Notre Dame is a program that has no problem recruiting the best players, and would rank near the top of the B1G. That Rutgers hung around with a backup quarterback, interim defensive coordinator, and youth across the defense shows that RU is not as doomed as people think. Sure, we'll take our licks from the top contenders. Ohio State will most likely make mincemeat out of the Scarlet Knights. But it's those mid-tier programs where Rutgers will have a chance. Not everyone has Urban Meyer or Mike Dantonio. Heck, Bill O'Brien may not even be in Happy Valley by Monday evening. The biggest issue will be coaching in the first season.
After two seasons, Kyle Flood looks like a small-time coach, plain and simple. He's lost recruits, and he doesn't have people around him who can coach 'em up like other programs. Some people might say "well just go out and get those guys." The problem is, those guys aren't working for Flood. Those guys get paid the same paycheck as Flood. I understand there's a money issue here, but you can lose money by keeping him too. A disastrous season in the B1G could cause the school to lose millions in donations, not to mention the losses in recruiting. Many high-profile recruits jumped ship because of the blowout losses; what do you think will happen in the B1G?
Now, it's officially the offseason. Rutgers will still be looking for a defensive coordinator, because Joe Rossi sure didn't seem to fix anything. National Signing Day is coming up as well, and we'll see just how good of a closer Flood can be on the recruiting trail. Stay warm Rutgers fans. The long winter has just begun.