PASS OFFENSE: C+. It wasn’t the best send-off Tommy Rees could have hoped for, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. Rees spread the field early and often, targeting nine different receivers in his first 10 completions. Rees struggled connecting with receivers on deep routes like he had all year, overshooting Troy Niklas, TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels on a few occasions. Jones and Daniels also uncharacteristically dropped a few would-be scores early in the game. Rees never could connect with his receivers in the end zone, and he finished the game without a touchdown or a turnover. With his 319 yards, Rees became the third quarterback in Notre Dame history to reach the 3,000-yard mark in one season (others were Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen). For all of his faults and athletic shortcomings, Rees has been a stalwart on the Irish roster since his freshman year. Even with a unit that will be loaded with talent, Notre Dame will miss his mind and his experience next season. Speaking of talent Notre Dame will miss, TJ Jones’s five catches for a team-high 66 yards moved him to No. 2 in all-time receptions in school history. Zack Martin, too, will be hard to replace. Martin and the offensive line gave Rees all day to throw throughout the game.
Not sure if this was a product of Rutgers’ poor pass defense or something else, but it was nice to see more than a blip from Chris Brown. We’ll see if he can carry that momentum into next season.
RUN OFFENSE: B. The task looked imposing while facing down college football’s fourth-ranked run defense, but Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel — and even a guest appearance by TJ Jones — were up to the task. Neither Folston nor McDaniel broke off on huge gains, but that can be attributed to Yankee Stadium’s field as much as it can Rutgers’ defense. Simply put, the field was terrible even if Yankee Stadium boasted of the 25,000 square feet of sod it put down. Ten minutes into to the game, it was shredded and players slipped and slid everywhere. Kelly wouldn’t blame the turf — subtly hinting at Notre Dame’s own field issues in the process — but the issue was noticeable. McDaniel and Folston combined for 153 yards on 34 carries, but perhaps the most impressive run came from the most unlikely contributor. Tommy Rees scrambled for five yards in the first half, notching his biggest run since 2011.
PASS DEFENSE: A-. An all-around solid performance from a unit that held Chas Dodd to 10-of-28 passing for 156 yards and forced him into four interceptions. A major nod to KeiVaraei Russell, who played out of his mind. Russell has just the right amount of talent, confidence and charisma that will make him a compelling player to follow the next two years. The way he told it, Russell jawed off to Rutgers receiver Brandon Coleman, telling the 6-foot-6 junior “Game over, big guy.” The only real blight on this unit was Bennett Jackson’s early coverage of Coleman. Coleman burned Jackson on three occasions — once for a 51-yard reception, once for Rutgers’ lone touchdown and a final time that forced Jackson into a pass interference call. Saturday’s contest showed that if sophomore Russell hasn’t already surpassed the senior tri-captain’s skill-set, he will soon. Dan Fox, Austin Collinsworth and Kendall Moore (yes, that Kendall Moore) also grabbed picks in the contest. With Matthias Farley either sick or injured, freshman Max Redfield had a solid premiere in his first-ever collegiate start.
RUN DEFENSE: A-. After recovering from an early-season leg injury, running back Paul James was supposed to be Rutgers’ No. 1 offensive threat. Instead, the Irish held the junior to 48 yards on 10 carries and kept him out of the end zone entirely. Inexplicably, the Irish couldn’t contain quarterback Chas Dodd, who had -350 career rushing yards before Saturday and tallied 55 yards against Notre Dame. Notre Dame finally figured out Dodd and recorded four sacks in the second half. Sheldon Day had one of those sacks, marking the first of his career. There wasn’t much else going on in a run game that totaled 80 yards on 26 carries except for uncharacteristic personal foul flags on Stephon Tuitt and Jarron Jones. Tuitt was quiet most of the game before recording two sacks in the final quarter. If that was his last game in a Notre Dame uniform — a decision he still has yet to make — that was the way to leave a lasting memory.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-. Without Kyle Brindza, this unit gets a D. But, as we have now come to expect, the junior was called on to bail out Notre Dame’s offense of stalled red zone drives, and he delivered time and time again. Brindza hit from 21, 25, 26, 38 and 49 yards — missing once from 44 — to keep Rutgers at bay throughout the game. Brindza hit all three of his attempts in the second half, when the game was still close. Otherwise, there’s not much to write home about. Rutgers kickoff returner Janarion Grant single-handedly gave the Scarlet Knights competitive field position with run-backs of 51, 44 and 32 yards. Even Kelly — long a cheerleader for the “potential” of Notre Dame’s special teams — uttered the words “a disaster of a kickoff coverage team.” Jones dropped Rutgers’ opening punt, setting up the Scarlet Knights for a field goal. Amir Carlisle was on kickoff return duties in place of a suspended George Atkinson III and did a fair job. He bobbled the opening kickoff, eventually taking a knee, but ran back a nice-looking 35-yarder on the following kickoff.
COACHING: B-. On one hand, Notre Dame was going through bowl game preparation without its offensive and defensive coordinators. On the other hand, Rutgers is a team that barely achieved .500 in the first 12 games. The fact that Notre Dame couldn’t score at will against the 120th-ranked pass defense is disconcerting. And it’s not just this year. Kelly has struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone in all four of his years with the Irish. He hinted at trick plays and creative play-calling on Friday, but the wildest Notre Dame got was targeting a variety of receivers early in the game and sticking to strictly the spread throughout the contest. It’s nice to end the season on a win, but as Kelly reiterated a few times throughout the week, 9-4 just ain’t going to cut it most years. Notre Dame walks away with a feel-good ninth win and a hefty check from the Pinstripe Bowl, but it wasn’t the season-sealing dominant victory Notre Dame could have used.
By Rachel Terlep