Give Chris Ash credit for telling the truth at Monday’s press conference ahead of this weekend’s game against Northwestern. It’s clear to every Rutgers football fan that answers are far outnumbered by the questions surrounding this team and Ash painted that picture clearly in his address to the media:
"I don't have, necessarily, an answer for some of things that continue to happen to us."— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 15, 2018
- Chris Ash on Rutgers' struggles since Week 1 pic.twitter.com/1hN5ruWXDP
Of course, it is Ash’s job to figure out what the answers are in order to improve this football team. Halfway through the season, he is coming up empty. There are a few unsettling moments in that one minute clip that Big Ten Network pulled from his presser, including the poor joke regarding practices. What I really disagree with is the notion of Ash saying “things that continue to happen to us.” That implies Rutgers has been a victim of circumstance, rather than failing to perform in their own right. Nothing that has happened to Rutgers like injuries or bad officiating is unique to this program, every team endures those issues.
I will say I don’t envy Ash having to answer questions from the media and he is in a difficult position with the current state of the team. Still, that’s his job, it’s his own doing and he is clearly failing. These weekly press conferences are becoming more painful to watch and there are six more weeks left in the season.
Ash did offer up the fact that he is now more involved with the defense, in terms of play calling and weekly meetings with players. It’s good he is taking a proactive approach, but the reality is this has always been his defense, even though Jay Niemann is the coordinator.
Overall, what really can be done to save this season? What solutions are there for improving this football team in 2018? The immediate future is bleak ahead of a brutal November stretch that includes four ranked opponents, all of whom have had some modicum of success recruiting New Jersey over the years. Out of 130 FBS teams, Rutgers is currently 124th with the latest S&P+ advanced statistics rankings, listed by Football Outsiders.
The most depressing stat for me is not the 1-6 record, but the 29 point average margin of defeat in those losses this season. Heading into the annual Homecoming game this weekend, the state of Rutgers football is at its lowest in years. We can quantify it at some point, but as far as the eye test goes, you might as well turn out the lights.
Ash’s first season was bad, but it was understandable to a degree based on the situation he inherited. However, this third season has been nothing short of a disaster. Ash did admit in his presser on Monday that the loss of the eight players involved in the credit card fraud investigation has hurt the team more than expected. The disappointing part of that entire situation is not only has it affected this team on the field, but it has reopened the negative perception of this program off the field. I do think Ash and by extension, athletic director Pat Hobbs, have handled the discipline in this case appropriately and to their credit, proactively.
The problem is this: Ash was supposed to rebuild this program, both on and off the field. While it’s clear there are less issues off the field, there have been 11 players that Ash brought to Rutgers and has since removed from the program. If you aren’t winning games, and in fact, actually losing in epic fashion, you obviously can’t afford to have any missteps off the field as well. Ash has had both. None of this changes the fact that his buyout remains at 9.8 million after this season, which likely means he will return for his fourth season at the helm of Rutgers football. It does not mean fans should have “faith without results” though, as Ash stated in the presser. That doesn’t fly in middle of year three.
I hope fans turn out in great numbers for this weekend’s Homecoming game against Northwestern. It’s always a fun weekend with alumni returning and seeing old friends. Don’t let the disappointment and pain of this football season take that away from you. As a Rutgers football fan, this is the situation we are in. Some of us have lived through similar dark times before and some of you are experiencing it for the first time, which honestly makes me jealous.
Either way, being a fan is a journey worth having, through the good times and bad. So take advantage of Homecoming weekend and commiserate with fellow fans, friends and others, while celebrating the university as a whole that we all love. There are a lot of Rutgers greats being inducted into the Hall of Fame and the weather should make for a perfect fall day. None of these will lead to a better performance on the field, but it will help cope with the likely results against Northwestern, who opened as a three touchdown favorite. That’s the only answer I have for Rutgers fans hoping this football season turns around.
Chris Ash’s full press conference on Monday: