NEW YORK – Notre Dame finished a disappointing season in the best way it could.
The No. 25 Irish defeated Rutgers 29-16 in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday at Yankee Stadium in front of the biggest crowd, 47,122, of the bowl’s four-year history.
Notre Dame (9-4) finished a season with a victory for the first time since winning the Sun Bowl after coach Brian Kelly’s first season in 2010, and the Irish got a postseason win a year after losing in the national championship game.
A good year that could have been a great year, Kelly said. We want more. It’s not enough for us. Nine-and-four is a good year for Notre Dame. It is not what we sign up for every year.
Quarterback Tommy Rees threw for 319 yards in his final game for Notre Dame, and Kyle Brindza connected on five field goals. TJ Jones scored on an 8-yard run in the first quarter, and Tarean Folston scored on a 3-yard run in the fourth that made it 26-16.
Notre Dame finished with a 494-236 advantage in yards, ran 35 more plays (90-55) than Rutgers (6-7) and dominated the time of possession (38:49-21:44). And the Irish did all of that with many players battling the flu.
It hit a number of guys throughout the week, but the guys were able to fight through, Rees said.
The ability to fight through was important in a game that was as sloppy as the field conditions at times.
Brindza got a rude introduction to the slippery field when he fell on his first kickoff after he had a 21-yard field goal to open the scoring five minutes into the game.
After the first kickoff, I was thinking, OK, this is going to be fun,’ said Brindza, who also made field goals from 38, 26, 25 and 49 yards and was short on one from 44 yards.
(The field) started to soften as the sun starting coming out a little bit more. It was hard to kick, but it was a blessing to be here on the field.
The Irish and Knights slipped and slid their way to a 13-point tie at halftime.
With field conditions less than stellar and some self-inflicted wounds by Notre Dame, the game was closer at the break then expected after the Irish’s first offensive series.
Notre Dame marched 71 yards on 14 plays to get to Rutgers’ 4-yard line, but after two failed passes, the Irish settled for a 21-yard field goal. The opening drive was one of six that went more than 62 yards with four of those drives ending in field goals.
The missed touchdown opportunities kept Rutgers, which didn’t defeat a team with a winning record this season, in the game.
That was our team this year, though, left tackle and Pinstripe Bowl MVP Zack Martin said. If you look at a lot of our wins, we didn’t blow a lot of teams out, we grinded them out.
The Irish were able to grind out one last win thanks to a defense that stunted Rutgers’ efforts for most of the game.
Scarlet Knights quarterback Chas Dodd was held to 156 passing yards and was intercepted three times, once each by Dan Fox, Austin Collinsworth and Kendall Moore. And Rutgers only gained 80 rushing yards with Paul James gaining 48 yards and Dodd running for 24.
Linebacker Carlo Calabrese led the defense with seven tackles, and linebacker and former Bishop Luers star Jaylon Smith had six.
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who may have played his last game for Notre Dame after receiving a second-round grade on his NFL draft evaluation, had four tackles with 1 1/2 sacks.
Cornerback KeiVarae Russell broke up three passes and intercepted a halfback pass by Justin Goodwin that halted a drive late in the second quarter after the Knights moved to the Irish’s 20.
We take things out of this, Russell said. The fact that we’ve got to start out fast, (Rutgers) is a team that I believe played well, but if we started out fast, we could have beat them earlier.
We got to stop letting teams stay with us in the fourth quarter. Next year, I think we’ll be able to be able to beat teams in the beginning and then finish strong as well.