It's better to win ugly than lose beautifully.
That idea was reinforced after the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-4) grinded out a 29-16 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-7, 3-5 American) in the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl.
It was a complete victory for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish out-gained Rutgers 494-236, gaining 175 yards on the ground and adding 319 yards through the air courtesy of quarterback Tommy Rees.
Even more impressive was the fact that those 175 yards came without running back George Atkinson III, after he was suspended before the game for violating team rules, per ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna.
#NotreDame HC Brian Kelly announces via statement that George Atkinson III and Jalen Brown will not play due to violation if team rules.— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) December 28, 2013
Despite missing their second-leading rusher, the Fighting Irish dominated the running game.
That was a major key, as the windy weather and ramshackle field were adversely affecting the game. Players were slipping when trying to make cuts, and the officials had a hard time maintaining their footing.
Establishing the ground game is vital in these conditions and Rutgers was unable to do so, mustering only 80 yards rushing on the day.
Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd had a rough time without a run-game to back him up. In the first half, he was 5-of-14 for 99 yards and a touchdown, per ESPN College Football.
It was odd, though, that Dodd found himself the leading rusher through two quarters, per CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman.
Dodd finished 10-of-28 for 156 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions.
The two teams exchanged field goals to begin the game, with kicker Kyle Brindza putting Notre Dame ahead 3-0 on the first drive. Rutgers kicker Kyle Federico answered with a field goal of his own to tie the game after a muffed punt by Notre Dame receiver TJ Jones gave the Scarlet Knights great field position following a would-be three-and-out.
The Fighting Irish wasted little time in taking a 10-3 lead. Head coach Brian Kelly used a nice combination of short throws and runs to move the ball 62 yards in 3:30. Jones redeemed himself, as he ran it in from eight yards out after motioning in from his usual wideout position.
It was a clever play call from Brian Kelly, as the game called for a little ingenuity in order to overcome the elements—just not too much, as would be established later.
Rutgers made it four drives in a row with a score, when Dodd hooked up with receiver Brandon Coleman for a 14-yard touchdown pass. The big play of the drive was Coleman's 51-yard reception that got the ball down to the Notre Dame 21-yard line.
Notre Dame capitalized on an interception from Dodd early in the second quarter. Brindza subsequently nailed a 38-yard field goal.
Despite taking a 13-10 lead, Kelly was likely disappointed that his team couldn't do more with great field position. The Fighting Irish started the drive on the Rutgers 22-yard line and managed to gain one yard before settling for three points.
The Irish weren't alone in leaving points on the board, as Rutgers had a 1st-and-goal on the 4-yard line. Two runs from halfback Justin Goodwin and an incomplete pass from Dodd failed to get the Scarlet Knights in the end zone, so they had to settle for a field goal.
On Rutgers' next drive, head coach Kyle Flood demonstrated that there is a right time and a wrong time to take risks. With the ball on the Notre Dame 20-yard line, he opted for a gadget play. Goodwin attempted a halfback pass, but his pass was intercepted by KeiVarae Russell on the 1-yard line.
Needless to say, Flood got his fair share of criticism on Twitter.
Somebody tell Kyle Flood it's a bowl game— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) December 28, 2013
Kyle Flood with all kinds of questionable decisions in that first half. Jeez.— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) December 28, 2013
This game is Kyle Flood’s masterpiece. I’m no longer frustrated, I’m in awe— Chip Patterson (@Chip_Patterson) December 28, 2013
If only he would've listened to what this guy had to say before the game, per Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger.
Kyle Flood yesterday: "The trick plays, maybe sometimes if you give football coaches too much time and we get a little creative."— Mike Vorkunov (@Mike_Vorkunov) December 28, 2013
The first half would end with both teams tied 13-13, and it didn't come a moment too soon as the game was a plodding, largely subdued affair.
Unfortunately, the second half was more of the same.
Notre Dame had a major advantage when it came to the battle in the trenches. Their offensive line had an advantage over Rutgers' defensive line size-wise, so Kelly went about systematically wearing down the Scarlet Knights defense.
He let running backs Tarean Folston and McDaniel shoulder the majority of the offensive burden. Rees was there to move the ball through the air when the defense began creeping up a bit too much.
It was an unimaginative game plan, but it served Notre Dame well. As the game went on, the Fighting Irish exerted more and more influence and controlled the clock.
Two field goals from Brindza gave the Irish a 19-13 lead in the fourth quarter.
Federico halved the deficit, 19-16, with 47-yard field goal with a little under nine minutes to play.
Notre Dame iced the game away on its next drive as Folston punched it in from three yards out to give the Irish a 10-point lead, 26-16, with 3:38 to play.
Dodd threw his second interception of the game on Rutgers' next drive, effectively killing any chance of a comeback.
After the game Rutgers coach Kyle Flood talked about the tough loss (via CBS Sports):
"We thought we played good red zone defense and we could make them kick a few field goals and attempt some field goals, maybe we could block one and then win the game in the fourth quarter. We were kind of poised to do that."
Tommy Rees, Notre Dame: A-
Rees wasn't prolific on Saturday, finishing 27-47 with 319 yards and no touchdowns.
What the senior QB did do well was manage the game. He avoided any costly interceptions and let the running game do the heavy lifting.
In addition to ending his Notre Dame career with a victory, Rees also moved to third on the school's all-time passing list, so it was a good day all around.
.@NDFootball QB Tommy Rees career: 7,670 passing yards, moved into 3rd most passing yards in school history.— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 28, 2013
After the game Rees talked about the offense (via CBS Sports): "I loved the way we were able to stay calm and stay within our offense and continue to kind of monotonously move the ball down the field."
Cam McDaniel and Tarean Folston: A+
It's hard to single out either McDaniel or Folston, as their numbers were very similar. McDaniel was the game's leading rusher, with 80 yards on 17 carries. Folston also had 17 carries, getting 73 yards and a touchdown.
Both running backs set the tone for the Notre Dame offense. The more success they had, the easier it was for Rees to beat the secondary.
Kyle Flood, Rutgers: D-
This game was a less-than-favorable example of Flood's game-management skills.
When you've got a first down inside the red zone, you should probably keep the trick plays locked away and trust your offense enough to think it can move the football with more traditional play calls. That interception didn't decide the game, but it certainly didn't help.
This win is a nice way for Notre Dame to end the season. The Fighting Irish built some momentum heading into 2014. For Rutgers, it's the complete opposite. The Scarlet Knights move to the Big Ten will only make things more difficult next year, and now Flood will have plenty of critics questioning his ability to lead the team going forward.