Rutgers accepts invite to New Era Pinstripe Bowl
All things considered, few could have guessed before the season that Dec. 28 would mark déjà vu for senior quarterback Chas Dodd.
But it will.
Not long after its 31-6 win over South Florida on Saturday night, the Rutgers football team received an invitation to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
Dodd led the Scarlet Knights to a victory over Iowa State in the 2011 Pinstripe Bowl, but this eighth bowl trip in nine years carries perhaps the program’s most marquee matchup.
“[Notre Dame is] a big-time program, obviously well known,” Dodd said. “We’re going to have to go out and prepare like we never have and just go out and get ready and execute. Obviously we’re going to start doing that here in the next week, and we’re excited about it.”
After all that unraveled in the second half of Rutgers’ season, relieved might be a more fitting word. Following a victory against Temple on Nov. 2, the Knights needed four tries to seize their sixth win for bowl eligibility.
Head coach Kyle Flood, who announced the team’s invitation from the New York Yankees postgame, opted to keep perspective.
“You look around the country after this weekend, and there are a lot of teams that started the season wanting to compete in a bowl game and then won’t have the opportunity to do that,” Flood said. “We’ll be one of the teams that will.”
Amid speculation of Flood’s job security, Athletic Director Julie Hermann gave him a vote of confidence yesterday in a University statement.
She also backed his decision yesterday to fire former defensive coordinator Dave Cohen, offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski and quarterbacks coach Rob Spence.
“Our football program continues to evolve and grow, as evidenced by the changes Coach Flood just announced,” Hermann said in a statement. “I support these moves and Kyle’s leadership as we transition into the Big Ten.”
The players expressed nothing but satisfaction inside the team’s locker room after clinching a bowl berth.
For the Knights, putting together arguably their most complete win of the season on Senior Night with everything on the line could not have been more gratifying.
“Today was a big step into what we want to be,” said senior wide receiver Quron Pratt. “Just to take this step and extend and our season, it shows a lot about the character of this team — just how everybody came out to play and was ready to play from the first snap.”
Rutgers will need more of the same sharp all-around play to compete against Notre Dame, still ranked No. 25 in the AP Poll despite falling Nov. 30 to then-No. 8 Stanford.
On a conference call yesterday, Flood called head coach Brian Kelly, who guided Notre Dame to the national championship game last season, one of the best in the business.
Looking to go out on top in his final year of eligibility, senior nose tackle Isaac Holmes has personal ties with the Irish as added incentive.
“Notre Dame has a lot of history with me,” Holmes said. “I got a guy who I played in high school [linebacker Carlo Calabrese] there. We had a big rivalry in high school. My cousin just graduated from there. I’ve looked for this day for quite some time now, and it’s going to be fun to go out there and play them on a grand stage.”
With nearly three weeks to prepare, a young Rutgers team can now take a step back and fine-tune some of the smaller details that hindered its execution during a three-game losing skid.
Flood noted postgame the layoff is critical for healing some of the older players, while younger players now get additional reps within the system to better understand schemes.
“It’s extremely important, not only for this game, but for the future of the program,” Dodd said. “We get a good number of extra practices in, and it’s going to be good for the younger guys to start to learn some things and get more reps than they’ve gotten through the season. That’s really the biggest thing these practices are going to help us out with.”
Flood added on yesterday’s conference call the Knights will begin bowl practice Saturday, and the game plan for Notre Dame will be installed the week leading up to the bowl game.
And then Dodd, who stuck it out for four seasons despite being benched for 23 straight games, has a chance to silence critics who questioned his decision to not transfer.
“It’d be huge,” Dodd said of a potential win against Notre Dame. “It’s crazy that we were able to go out there and get the win [Saturday]. … It’s just an awesome opportunity, and I’m very fortunate.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.