Notre Dame closes out 2013 with sloppy win over Rutgers

Notre Dame closes out 2013 with sloppy win over Rutgers
December 28, 2013, 2:30 pm
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NEW YORK -- For Notre Dame, it was mission accomplished in the Pinstripe Bowl, even if it wasn't pretty.

Perhaps the best thing to say about Notre Dame's 29-16 win over Rutgers on Saturday at Yankee Stadium was that it served as a microcosm for the 2013 season. The Irish were good enough to win their ninth game, though it wasn't without a number of stalled red zone drives and other missed opportunities littering the box score.

Though those missed opportunities didn't cost Notre Dame on Saturday, they were similar to whiffs from earlier in the season.

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When asked to sum up 2013, coach Brian Kelly said: "A good year that could have been a great year. … I would say a couple of missed opportunities in some games and we could have easily been a team that's looking at double digit wins, and that's where we want to be every year."

The goals progressively got smaller as the season went on and the losses piled up. But for Notre Dame, the three goals the team aimed to accomplish were hit against Rutgers: Send the senior class out with a win, get a good look at some younger guys and garner a ninth victory.

Few things were crisp in the contest, from the poor field conditions to a number of missed throws and a handful of lazy penalties. The turf, in particular, was appallingly bad -- despite the Yankees boasting about the 25,000 square feet of sod laid down for the field -- though both Kelly and Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said it wasn't significant factor.

"Didn't affect the outcome of the game in any fashion," Kelly said, "we've played in worse conditions than that so I'm not going to get into that."

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"It was like playing football on a baseball field," tight end Troy Niklas, who slipped on what could've been a touchdown reception in the first half, said. "You could tell the field was made for metal (baseball) cleats."

Notre Dame also had 16 players come down with a "pretty strong" case of the flu and had to deal with some of those guys not being 100 percent.

Both teams wound up relying on place-kickers to handle most of the scoring, with Kyle Brindza hitting five of six attempts and Kyle Federico connecting on all three of his tries. Notre Dame had four drives of 10 or more plays and generated nine points off them. The Irish out-gained Rutgers 494 to 191, yet didn't pull away until the final minutes of the game.

Running back Tarean Folston started and rushed 17 times for 73 yards, and scored a game-sealing touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Cam McDaniel carried 17 times for 80 yards, too, as the pair split the lion's share of carries with George Atkinson suspended for a violation of team rules.

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Outside of a 51-yard completion from quarterback Chas Dodd to Coleman, Rutgers' offense struggled against the Irish defense. KeiVarae Russell had an excellent game, deflecting a few throws and picking off an oddly-timed halfback pass.

But in a bowl game that ultimately won't matter a whole lot through a historical lens, the game's grandest significance may have been in sending the team's seniors out with a win.

[Inside the Irish: Five things we learned from Notre Dame's win]

"They have been great examples of what student‑athletes are at Notre Dame, both in the classroom, and certainly have set a high bar: Four consecutive bowl games, played for a National Championship, 21 wins over the last two seasons," Kelly lauded. "But they'll leave an indelible mark in our relationship here among not only the staff and myself, but the younger players that we hope they'll carry with them."