End of the line
Rutgers endures sub-.500 season, second straight bowl loss by failing to stop Notre Dame’s consistent offense
BRONX — Junior wide receiver Brandon Coleman lengthily hugged injured sophomore wideout Leonte Carroo, junior quarterback Gary Nova and senior defensive tackle Isaac Holmes.
Coleman then walked off the field at Yankee Stadium slowly and listlessly, his puffy eyes looking down to the wet grass.
That was right after the Rutgers football team’s 29-16 loss Dec. 28 to Notre Dame in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
Before the fourth quarter, the Scarlet Knights had an opportunity to defeat last year’s BCS Championship finalist.
Then senior quarterback Chas Dodd threw his third interception of the game to safety Austin Collinsworth toward the game’s end. Then he left the drive with his head down.
His career finished with the Scarlet Knights (6-7) settling with a below .500 season.
“It’s a huge difference,” Dodd said postgame of not finishing better than .500. “In everyone’s eyes that’s associated with the program, it’s a huge difference.”
Perhaps the costliest interception came from freshman running back Justin Goodwin. In the halfback option, Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell intercepted an end zone pass to Coleman with 3:02 left in the half.
Rutgers advanced to Notre Dame’s (9-4) 20-yard line on what was a six-play, 46-yard drive. The Knights nearly broke a 13-13 tie — the halftime score — before the interception.
“Everybody’s got exotic plays in their playbook,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “And every play is designed to work, and you call them because you had success with them in practice. The players build confidence in you as a play caller and then as a head coach. When you get into the field zone, we call the plays that we practiced.”
Whichever tailback was in the game for that play would have had the option, not necessarily just Goodwin, Flood said.
In the second half, the Fighting Irish offense advanced at a slithering pace. It finally worked for them with 3:38 left in the game.
Notre Dame’s five-minute drive ended with running back Tarean Folston scoring off a 3-yard run. That made it a 26-16 Fighting Irish lead.
The drive included six rushes — three for at least 10 yards and two toward the goal line — three completions for 8 yards or less and a timely 28-yard reception from tight end Troy Niklas.
Quarterback Tommy Rees threw no incompletions in the drive, throwing 27-for-47 in the game with no touchdowns but not interceptions. He thrived off completions up the middle.
“When you put a defense together, if you do one thing, you’re going to give up something else,” Flood said. “And we made the decision that we were going to try to limit the big plays. To do that, if you start getting in press man coverage, now you’re opening up opportunities for big plays.”
Although Rutgers prevented big plays, Notre Dame’s offense found a winning formula. The Fighting Irish scored on their previous drive, which was similar to their touchdown drive. There were consistent runs up the middle, short passes and another timely Niklas catch for 26 yards on third and 9.
Notre Dame ended with a 494-236 offensive-yardage advantage, but its lack of big plays made it seem closer.
“This game, at least we’re keeping everything in front of us and we’re making them earn everything that they got,” said junior linebacker Kevin Snyder.
Rutgers collapsed, but it kept a game against last year’s BCS Championship finalist manageable.
That gave Dodd one reason to keep his head high.
“It’s tough to say how it would end, but I’ve been extremely fortunate to be in the positions that I’ve had with the opportunities presented to me,” Dodd said. “The season didn’t go the way we wanted to or end the way we wanted to, but just having the opportunities that we’ve had as a team and being able to come here and play a team like this and play in a bowl game like this is great.”
This story originally appeared Dec. 29 on targumsports.wordpress.com.