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Recapping The Rutgers Coaches Press Conferences For Kansas Week

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They reflect on the loss to Ohio State and look ahead at the game this Saturday

Rutgers v Ohio State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It’s officially Kansas game week for Rutgers football and head coach Chris Ash, defensive coordinator Jay Niemann, and offensive coordinator John McNulty met with the media to discuss the current state of the team. Here is a recap of what all three coaches had to say, including video of each press conference in its entirety.

Chris Ash

  • He said it was “tough” to watch from the sidelines and wasn’t easier looking at the film. Said the margin for error against a team as talented as Ohio State was a big problem on Saturday.
  • Ash felt Rutgers played well against the run until late in the second quarter when Tate Martell scrambled for a big gain.
  • He said the challenge now is not letting Ohio State “beat them twice” by playing poorly again this week versus Kansas.
  • Ash said they “have to help their younger players get better in a hurry.”
  • No major injuries to report, which is significant.
  • In regard to Artur Sitkowski, he is listed as day-to-day and said he was feeling much better on Monday since Saturday’s game. He is limited for now but Ash said it’s just about him dealing with pain, no injury to report. Ash said “we don’t anticipate playing without him next Saturday.” Bullet dodged!
  • Blessuan Austin is still week-to-week. Ash said he feels great but is still sourcing more information from another doctor tomorrow after already meeting with several. He cited that he has a future to worry about and wants to do his due diligence in getting as much information he can before making a decision on how to proceed.
  • In regard to concern with the secondary, Ash said not having three guys they are counting on against Ohio State was difficult. Kiy Hester is expected to play against Kansas and he said Tre Avery was week-to-week and is more like day-to-day this week.
  • He did say they probably aren’t going to face a passing team as explosive as Ohio State, but they needs the secondary to be healthy the rest of the season.
  • Ash said they have played a lot of freshman and will continue to do so, regardless of the redshirt rule. They are filling a role on special teams, aside from playing offense or defense.
  • He doesn’t look at the Kansas game as a measuring stick, but an opportunity to play better and improve. He cited a team goal as winning all three non-conference games.
  • Ash said Sitkowski will get all the reps needed, but he may be limited in the sense of how many throws he can make during the week.
  • With the tight ends, Ash said they need more production from the position and need to play better. He said a lot goes into it, but they need that position to become a strength for the offense.
  • In how to protect Sitkowski, he said Rutgers has to be more fundamentally and mentally sound. Said that was a big problem in loss on Saturday.
  • When asked about the last call of the half when Sitkowski got sacked, Ash confirmed the play was designed for a quick pass to Jon Hilliman in the middle of the field. He admitted it’s fair to second guess any play that doesn’t work as a coach.
  • He highlighted the running backs and wide receivers as being skilled players for Kansas.
  • Ash said kicker Justin Davidovicz has done a great job and is gaining confidence every practice. His consistency in kicking from distance gets better as his confidence grows.

Jay Niemann

  • When asked about the how the freshman played against Ohio State, he thought the experience they gained was valuable and that there were some good things uncovered in reviewing the game film. He specifically cited fundamentals and open field tackling.
  • Niemann said there were too many mentor errors in the Ohio State game and said the Buckeyes switched things up a lot and caught Rutgers in some bad spots. Referenced players not being as familiar in playing with one another as a factor.
  • On planning each week with the uncertainty of players like Blessuan Austin dealing with injuries, Niemann said they plan based on who is available and adjust from there if things change.
  • On the challenges that Kansas presents, Niemann reference their “big line splits”, good running backs and wide receivers. He has been impressed with the skill guys they have on offense.
  • Pooka Williams gave Kansas a weapon in the second game they didn’t have in the opener and Niemann cited his ability to make people miss as a problem.
  • He said Kansas has a diverse passing game and uses a lot of bubble screens. He said their offense, like most, is relative to how they run the ball, which they did well in the win over Central Michigan.
  • They’ve allowed seven sacks in two games and Niemann said it depends on the approach in how Rutgers will look to attack. He said Nicholls State and Central Michigan had different styles and he has to watch more tape to see how much of what each did can be applied to what Rutgers can do based on the system.
  • Niemann doesn’t believe philosophically a defense has to rack up sacks in order to be effective and cited stopping the opponent on third downs as the real key to being successful. He also mentioned pressure in various ways is also important.
  • He had praise for linebacker Trevor Morris and said he played well at Ohio State.

John McNulty

  • Sarge asked McNulty about the play call right before the half when Sitkowski took the vicious sack/hit from Nick Bosa. McNulty quoted Tom Coughlin, saying “bad play calls are the one’s that don’t work”, adding there were about 70 of those in the game. He explained they were in “two-minute mode” in the drive before the last one and a tip off a receiver led to an interception. So he wanted to try again on the drive before the half, but in hindsight he realizes it would have been best to hand off the ball.
  • He said it was a priority to keep Sitkowski healthy in this game, that Nick Bosa was going to be a major challenge the entire game and the call to have Art throw on the last play was “probably a mistake.”
  • McNulty didn’t seem overly concerned about the pass blocking issues the offensive line has had through two weeks and cited that Sitkowksi is “tough as nails” in how he has responded to the hits he has taken so far. He did say as a staff they need to prioritize keeping Art “clean” as the season progresses.
  • When asked about the wide receivers, McNulty said “they didn’t get a lot done the other day.” He said it wasn’t for a lack of effort, but that the inexperience in the group showed and they still have a long way to go in terms of their development.
  • He was asked about his blocking scheme and went into great detail about the adjustments he made during the game, in part due to what he said was his own fault in not coaching how to defend the pass rush as well as they needed to.
  • In regard to the amount of reps Sitkowski will get this week, McNulty said he wasn’t sure but he thinks Art is “good to go” in terms of fully preparing to start against Kansas. He said the defense they will face has a different scheme than they’ve seen so far and that Sitkowski needs time on the field to practice against it. McNulty said they’ll take the week as it comes in terms of having to adjust the game plan for Sitkowski and what he is comfortable doing on Saturday.
  • When asked if there was anything Sitkowski said that signaled to McNulty that he is okay in regard to taking his first college loss and leaving the game early after taking the hit, McNulty said right away that “the biggest disappointment for him was that he didn’t finish the game.” He added he hasn’t seen “any flinch at all” in Sitkowski when things aren’t going well, ending by describing him as “focused and tough.”
  • When asked about facing a Kansas defense that is allowing 16.5 points per game, Mculty cited their ability to cause turnovers as the biggest thing that jumped out about them.
  • He reiterated that Kansas “is a bit unusual in what they do defensively” and said quick decisions have to be made on the field.
  • McNulty said he felt the way the offense started the game was “awful” and “didn’t give themselves a chance” in the run game as a unit overall. He did say he still feels good about where the run game is headed the rest of the season.
  • Overall with the offense, McNulty candidly said the unit “didn’t look like they practiced” during the week by the way they played in the first half.
  • Asked what Greg Schiano had to say to him after the game, he had the former Rutgers head coach and current Ohio State defensive coordinator was complimentary in they way the offense was setting up their plays. Schiano told him it forced a lot of adjustments from his players and moving positions prior to the snap. McNulty said it was more of a lack of execution in regard to what sunk their chances to generate any offense in the game.
  • He cited running back Jon Hilliman as a guy who showed up in the game and is willing to go up against anyone.