Sam Hellman -- Kyle Flood's job status was obviously under examination because of disappointments on the field this year and in recruiting. Rutgers backed him publicly, and he fired three assistant coaches Sunday morning to move things in the right direction.
Whatever is thought of Flood as a coach, he is loved within the locker room and the players played hard for him to get bowl eligible after clunkers against UCF and Connecticut. This season is, for now, a disappointment for Rutgers but that changes with a chance to play Notre Dame. Rutgers doesn't get opponents like Notre Dame often, and it means a lot to get a chance to test themselves against a national brand. One thing to keep in mind with Flood is that he is 15-10 in two years, took Rutgers to two bowl games, won a share of the program's first conference title and was the 2012 Big East Coach of the Year.
Was winning game No. 6 a goal for the program? Yes, but it was a goal that would have meant a lot more if it happened a month earlier. This was a program that had its sights set on an AAC title.
2.) The Scarlet Knights have the nation's fourth-ranked rush defense and 103rd ranked pass efficiency defense. Is either unit's ranking representative of their talent level, potential and production? Or is one more a statistical function of the other?
Hellman -- Both rankings are accurate representations of what Rutgers has done defensively this year. Let's start with the rushing defense.
Rutgers has a top-notch defensive line coach in Jim Panagos, and is led by former five-star recruit Darius Hamilton at the 3-technique. Sure, some of the numbers look better with how much opponents passed against Rutgers, but this is a very good run defense and Notre Dame would be smart to opt for a heavy passing game. Rutgers does not generate a good pass rush with its front seven, but dynamic against the run. Class of 2013 five-star Alex Collins netted just 63 yards against Rutgers this year. Only UCF has been able to win the running battle, and that was with the best statistical rusher in the conference.
The Rutgers defensive secondary was simply bad this year, which is why Dave Cohen was removed as defensive coordinator. There is potential in the secondary, but three of the top four cornerbacks are freshmen. Rutgers struggled specifically against the spread offense with too much base defense. Interim defensive coordinator Joe Rossi will call plays for the first time at the FBS level against Notre Dame.
3.) Notre Dame's secondary has struggled, both tackling and with coverage breakdowns, penalties, throughout the season. Can Rutgers stress the Irish back line?
Hellman -- Yes, but a lot depends on health. Sophomore Leonte Carroo is Rutgers' best receiver. He is a legitimate deep ball thread, and former teammate of Elijah Shumate, but his health is uncertain after taking a bad hit in the loss to UCF. Receiver Brandon Coleman is a candidate to leave early for the NFL. When healthy, he is a 6-foot-6, 4.4 specimen that was great in the Rutgers Pinstripe Bowl win over Iowa State.
The problem with Coleman is health. He still hasn't recovered from an offseason knee injury, and finished the regular season with only 32 catches and three touchdowns. Tight end Tyler Kroft emerged as the most consistent in the passing game, but he is not a traditional deep threat.
Rutgers will star senior Chas Dodd over junior Gary Nova (another Shumate teammate) at quarterback. Dodd is not a dynamic athlete, and there are some limitations, but the deep fly route is one of his best balls.
4.) What units have to play their best for Rutgers to pull off the upset? What position group is the most dependable?
Hellman -- Rutgers needs its defensive secondary to step up for any chance at an upset. I am interested to see what changes Rossi makes as the acting defensive coordinator. If Rutgers wants to have any chance at Notre Dame, there cannot be a porous secondary for Tommy Rees to pick apart.
When you look for dependability, no single position stands out. Lack of consistency across the board was an issue for Rutgers. The closest thing to dependability would come on special teams, where transfer punter Nick Marsh is a major weapon in the field position game. Rutgers can stay in the game with Marsh's punting, and Janarion Grant, Quron Pratt and Jeremy Deering are all real weapons in the return game.
5.) Irish fans are familiar with former five-star RB prospect Savon Huggins. What's held him back through three seasons of competition?
Hellman -- There is no simple way to answer this one. Huggins has not played as well as other running back options, and that is in practice and games. First, Jawan Jamison beat him out legitimately and went on to be drafted by the Washington Redskins. Now, walk-on Paul James and true freshman Justin Goodwin have done the same in 2013.
Huggins started his Rutgers career with an incredible scrimmage, but it wore him out for the start of the season the next week. Fumbles and injuries became an issue as a true freshman, and he never fully bounced back.
As a junior, Huggins has value to the Rutgers program, but it is not as the dynamic five-star weapon that was expected. He works as hard as anyone, and has a better understanding of the Rutgers offense than the other backs. Look for him to be a third-down guy against Notre Dame, where he is excellent in pass protection.