The Yankees of college football, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, will be facing off against the Rutgers Scarlett Knights in Yankee Stadium on Saturday, December 28.
This game includes plenty of talent on both teams, some of which could be playing in the future on Sundays.
One aspect of this game to keep an eye on is how the Notre Dame offense and defense responds after losing their coordinators. Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin recently accepted a head coaching job at Miami (OH), while defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will be taking over the reins at the University of Connecticut.
Let’s take a deeper look at the matchups that will make or break the result for each team.
The first matchup to watch will be in the trenches.
Notre Dame recently lost starting nose tackle and 2014 first-round NFL draft prospect Louis Nix to a knee injury. Starting in his place will be senior Kona Schwenke.
Schwenke, the 6’4", 303-pound product from Hau’ula, Hawaii has played every position on the Notre Dame defensive line during his tenure in South Bend. He has been a solid rotational player for most of his career, and he will be looking to make an impact against a Rutgers rushing attack that includes Paul James, who was recently named to the AAC first team.
The loss of Nix will also have a large effect on defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Tuitt and Nix are both first-round prospects. It will be interesting to see how Tuitt responds to having Rutgers key in on him without the 6’3", 340-pound Nix in the middle to stuff running gaps.
Look for Rutgers to pound the ball inside in order to test the newest face on the Irish defensive line, especially with All-AAC center Betim Bujari clearing lanes for James.
Another matchup to watch will be Notre Dame starting quarterback Tommy Rees against the Scarlet Knights secondary.
Rutgers ranked 103rd in the nation in defensive pass efficiency this season.
Rees and the Notre Dame passing attack ranked 54th in the nation in passing efficiency this season.
Rees, who passed for 2,938 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season will test the Rutgers secondary early and often.
Taking into consideration that Notre Dame’s receiving weapons, which includes senior TJ Jones, who surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the first time in his career in 2013, and it might end up being a very long day for the struggling Scarlet Knight pass defense.
Notre Dame has been playing with the same offensive line for most of the last two seasons. But after losing starting center Nick Martin and starting left guard Chris Watt to injury in recent weeks, they will be facing the challenge of defending one of the best pass-rushing attacks in the nation.
Connor Hanratty and sophomore Mark Harrell are projected to take the spots of the injured linemen.
Rutgers amounted 32 sacks this year (an average of 2.67 sacks pre game), which ranks 25th in the nation. Normally, this would be a non-factor as the Irish allowed just eight sacks on the year, which ranks third in the nation.
Also, starting right guard Christian Lombard went down with an injury earlier in the season. His replacement, freshman Steve Elmer, has done a solid job in his place.
With the loss of Watt and Martin, look for the Irish to struggle to protect quarterback Tommy Rees.
Heading into the 2013 season, many NFL scouts would have been excited to see this matchup. Brandon Coleman was looking to elevate his draft stock while Bennett Jackson was looking to continue the solid play he exhibited during the Notre Dame national championship run.
Both of those players underachieved mightily this season.
Coleman, who hauled in 718 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 43 receptions seemingly regressed from a statistical standpoint this year. In 2013, Coleman was only able to bring in 32 receptions for 473 yards and three touchdowns.
Jackson, on the other hand, was burned multiple times in coverage this year. Jackson picked off four passes last year, but that number decreased to just two in 2013.
With both players playing their final collegiate games of the career, look for them to be involved in a constant battle all game long in hopes of showing glimpses of the potential that they both once exhibited in their junior seasons.