NEW YORK — The plan for Rutgers seemed to be playing out well. Keep Notre Dame out of the end zone, stay close heading into the fourth quarter and make a few plays to steal a victory in the Pinstripe Bowl.
The Scarlet Knights never did make those few plays.
Rutgers managed only 237 yards of offense and allowed far too many long drives to the Fighting Irish, who pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 29-16 victory Saturday.
Rutgers (6-7) heads to the Big Ten next year, leaving the American Athletic Conference (the former Big East) behind for much tougher competition. The Scarlet Knights will enter their new league coming off their first losing season since 2010 and just the second in the last nine years. Flood will need to show immediate improvement.
Tommy Rees passed for 319 yards in his final college game and Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals for Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish (9-4) finished their follow-up season to last year’s run to the national championship game a long way from the BCS against a two-touchdown underdog trying to avoid a losing record.
Notre Dame’s play was less than inspired — Kelly said about a dozen players were fighting a flu bug — but the win prevented the Irish from finishing with eight victories for the third time in his four seasons.
“A good season that could have been a great season,” coach Brian Kelly said.
Notre Dame’s TJ Jones scored on an 8-yard run in the first quarter and Coleman answered with a 14-yard touchdown catch soon after. Tarean Folston’s 3-yard touchdown run with 3:38 in the fourth made it 26-16 and finally gave the Irish a comfortable lead.
On the slick turf at Yankee Stadium, the Pinstripe Bowl turned into a field-goal kicking contest. Brindza was 5 for 6. Kyle Federico made 3 of 3 for the Scarlet Knights.
The Irish dominated in yards (494-237) and time of possession (38:49) but bogged down in the red zone repeatedly.
Rees closed a college career packed with both memorable and forgettable moments with a solid performance, going 27 for 47 with no interceptions.
“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,” Rees said.
Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin capped his excellent college career by being named game MVP.
Twice Notre Dame put together double-digit play drives that ended in short field goals for Brindza. A 15-play, 90-yard march that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth with Brindza’s 25-yarder made it 19-13 Notre Dame with 12:46 left.
Brindza’s third field goal, a 26-yarder with 6:03 left in the third quarter, gave Notre Dame a 16-13 lead — after the Irish caught a break. Brindza had missed from 36 yards but Rutgers was flagged for running into the kicker to give him a second, easier, try.
The teams played to a 13-13 tie in first half that wasn’t nearly as crisp and pleasant and as the weather.
Brindza kicked a couple of field goals, one after an interception by Kendall Moore at the Rutgers’ 22.
Federico made two field goals for Rutgers, one after the Scarlet Knights recovered a muffed punt by Jones at the Notre Dame 21.
Jones atoned for the turnover with a touchdown run on a fly sweep that gave Notre Dame a 10-3 lead in the first quarter.
Rutgers came right back to tie with Dodd going deep to Coleman for 51 yards, and then finding him for a TD with 1:51 left in the first quarter.