All the excitement of past wins seems like a distant memory now and Notre Dame walks into their final home game against Rutgers. We have pitched our tent on-line with our BCS math trying to figure out a way for Notre Dame to get back into the big game. I was never very good at math but it doesn't seem likely from my calculations. What do we as fans have to get excited about for this game?
As we as fans limp into this game, we just don't seem very excited about this game. Fans from other teams have kind of forgotten about ND and don't seem to care much about Notre Dame anymore. ESPN hardly mentions the Irish. It seems there is little to get excited about in this game.
Coach Willingham is going to have the same problem we have as fans. Will the Irish care about this game? Will they have the same indifferent attitude they came to play with against Boston College and Navy? Is there any great joy to be had by beating this team?
This game probably scares me more than Navy did. I knew if Notre Dame came out flat, they were in for a battle until the end. Now the Irish come off a bye week with little motivation other than beating a 1-9 team. They have archrival USC waiting for them next week and USC seems to have that swagger that makes this rivalry one of the best in college football. All of this spells doom for the Irish if they don't come out motivated. I think this is going to be one very ugly game.
I know, "Mike how can a 1-9 team whose season is in shambles play with Notre Dame?" The same way a 1-7 Navy team almost beat Notre Dame and then got dismantled 38-0 by UConn the next week. College football is a game of emotion and any team can play with anyone under the right circumstances. An early turnover by Notre Dame, a defensive stand on 4th down by Rutgers, a missed assignment by an Irish defensive back and the Irish are in for a dogfight. All the Irish have to do is give this team a reason to believe and they will. The Irish have been giving a lot of teams a reason to believe lately so I don't expect this game to be any different.
Rutgers is miserable rushing the football. They average 52 yards a game rushing. They seem to lose a lot of yards rushing as well with 500 yards of lost yardage. They don't pass well either averaging 163 yards a game. Rutgers has a total of 15 offensive touchdowns all year. Rutgers also doesn't hold onto the football well. They have turned the ball over 30 times this year with 19 interceptions. As I have said many times, teams that turn the ball over usually have a losing record. For some reason, I just have a feeling the Irish will be lucky to get one all day.
Rutgers has surrendered a lot of yards on defense. They give up an average of 198 yards on the ground and 192 through the air. They have given up and average of 275 yards a game on the ground their last 4 games. They have surrendered 36 total touchdowns and 17 have come on the ground and 19 through the air. You can attack Rutgers from either the run or the pass. The Irish should be able to move the ball on Rutgers at will. I just got a feeling they won't.
Rutgers is pretty banged up right now. Their starter at QB, Ryan Cubit, has been out the last three games so freshman quarterback Ryan Hart will get the start this week even though Cubit has been back this week to practice. Hart has shown improvement the last two games and should be gaining confidence for his first road start. When Hart is throwing, he will likely be looking for tight end L.J. Smith. Smith is a very athletic tight end who has been one of the bright spots for Rutgers this year.
The Scarlet Knights are also very banged up along the defensive line. Rutgers comes in a very banged up team but I expect them to give it there all. LB Gary Brackett leads the defense. He leads the team in tackles and is second in sacks with 4. Nathan Jones is the next leading tackler for the Scarlet Knight. 4 out of the top 6 leaders in tackles are defensive backs, which is never a good sign. The best pass-rusher on the team is Raheem Orr with 4.5 sacks. This Scarlet Knight defensive gives up yards and doesn't rush the passer that well with a total of 14 sacks all year. The Irish offense should do very well against this unit.
On paper, the Irish should roll over Rutgers but I don't see that happening. The Irish don't have much motivation for this game. Rutgers, while down, has all the motivation in the world. To beat Notre Dame would make their season. While the Irish always get up for the big games, they clearly lack focus in the little games. If the Irish lack focus early in this game, we are going to see another game just like Navy. Ty Willingham has done a tremendous job of getting this team mentally ready to play in all the big games. I think he has a tougher job this week than he will next week. I just don't see the Irish coming with their A game this week.
If the Irish ever needed a strong showing, it would be now. The Irish offense could use a little confidence going into the USC game next week. The Irish rushed for 68 total yards against Navy. The Irish defense could also use a lot of confidence as well after surrendering 216 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns against Navy. That was a season high for both yards and touchdowns in a single game.
Notre Dame does not have the luxury to go through the motions against a team like Rutgers. Miami came out flat against them and struggled for three-quarters to gain a sizable lead. The Irish don't quite have the athletes that Miami does and if they give this Rutgers team some momentum, they will surely run with it. I don't see much motivation for the Irish team and I see all kinds of motivation for Rutgers. Notre Dame struggles to beat Rutgers. Notre Dame 28 Rutgers 17.