Friday, December 27, 2013

Cram Session - Bowl Edition

Pinstripe Bowl

Rutgers (6-6) vs. Notre Dame (8-4) in Bronx, NY

The Fighting Irish look to finish the 2013 season off right, as they face heavy underdog Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. Notre Dame had some great victories this season, including handing Big Ten champion Michigan State their only loss of the season, and they also defeated Pac-12 runner up Arizona State. However, some mystifying losses, like at Pittsburgh and at what turned out to be a mediocre Michigan team, derailed the Irish's chances of returning to a BCS bowl.

Irish QB Tommy Rees had an up and down season. He finished with 27 touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards passing, but he also threw 13 interceptions, including 7 in his last four games. He also completed just 54% of his passes this year, and combining his inaccuracy with an uneven running game and the Irish were unable to make plays when needed at critical times this season. Rees should have a chance to be good Tommy against a terrible Scarlet Knights pass defense. Cam McDaniel led the Irish in rushing but the truth is Brian Kelly never was able to settle on a number one back. George Atikinson III was the second leading rusher, but each back had just one game over 100 yards rushing this season. A major focus for Notre Dame next year has to be to have a more established rushing attack. The Irish's three headed attack at receiver includes wideouts TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels, and tight end Troy Niklas. The Irish know they will lose leading receiver Jones to graduation, but I hope that junior Daniels comes back for his senior season. The Notre Dame defense seemed to fall under the weight of high expectations that 2012 squad had left. They were also beset by injuries most of the year and never quite were able to get above being mediocre.

The Scarlet Knights have a good offense but their problem this season was their defense was so bad that the offense couldn't usually keep up. The Scarlet Knights went just 2-5 in their last seven games and had to beat South Florida in their season finale to become bowl eligible. Gary Nova made too many mistakes at quarterback for coach Kyle Flood's tastes so he inserted Chas Dodd as his quarterback in the 11th game of the season. Dodd had mostly struggled when he saw action this year, but was impressive against a bad South Florida team. Rutgers most dangerous player is RB Paul James. James led the team with 9 rushing touchdowns and averaged over 5 yards per carry. The Rutgers passing game likes to spread the ball around and has four different main options at receiver. Tylor Kroft led the team in catches and yards, while Leonte Carroo led the team in touchdowns. Unfortunately for Rutgers Carroo missed the final two games with an injury and is doubtful for Saturday's game. That means Quron Pratt and Brandon Coleman could see more targets.

The only chance I see Rutgers having in this game is if bad Tommy shows up and Rees throws a lot of interceptions. But with how poor Rutgers pass defense is, I expect Rees to look more like the quarterback we saw against Air Force. I expect Daniels and Jones to have huge games receiving. All six of Rutgers wins came against teams with losing records, so they have shown nothing this season to indicate that they should be in Notre Dame's league. A month away from not playing may have Notre Dame rusty at first but after a sluggish start I expect Notre Dame to blow out the Scarlet Knights.

Prediction: Notre Dame 48, Rutgers 23

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