Rutgers begins the season Friday, so it’s time for the beginning of Game Week press conferences. The media and fans like hoped Ash would name a starting quarterback, which he did not do. That did not stop a plethora of questions on the matter regardless.
Here’s my five biggest takeaways from listening to the press conference. As per past disclaimers, I am acknowledging in advance that because coaches try to avoid bulletin board or scouting material for opponents, much of the media commentary is likely excessive assessment. I may be overanalyzing or taking a leap in the conclusions per just a few small phrases from the Coach. Watch the full Chris Ash in the embedded video below.
1. “We know what we are doing at quarterback ... but will not make a public announcement.”
Ash said there’s no advantage to Rutgers actually naming a starter publicly. Naturally the first question in the Q&A came from NJ Advance Media’s Keith Sargeant about whether both quarterbacks (Sitkowski and Carter) could play and Ash replied, “Nothing is off the table.” Another follow up question was how close the quarterbacks were in a variety of areas including leadership, which Ash said were equal. Then he followed by saying it came down to, “who has in the end made the most plays and led the offense most effectively in practice.” John McNulty also said the decision was not impulsive, that the conclusion reached was trending that way before reaching it’s current state.
Ash also did mention, all three are different. That led Sargeant to hit him with a follow up question about if Johnny Langan had made strides recently. Ash replied saying the staff knew coming out of spring that if eligible, Langan possesses a skillset that the Scarlet Knights don’t otherwise have at the position, one that is difficult for defenses to prepare for. They have always had a “Johnny Langan plan.” Offensive Coordinator John McNulty said this presents different challenges for the defense, and also mentioned three, rather than two. He said they have a good idea and it will go pretty smooth.
Dave’s take: Rumors abound that McLane Carter will get the nod, though I don’t see a reason why the staff would not name him the starter if that were true other than the excuses made in the presser. If it is Sitkowski, I could see that really discouraging some portion of the fan base. So this lack of information would have me thinking perhaps it is Art, but I fully expect both to play, maybe even three with Johnny Langan regardless of the score. At the end of the day, the staff will need to play the best guy based on game results, not just practice.
This could be a full post in itself, but at the end of the day more speculation may not matter. I’ll include more in the game preview and if any other news breaks, we will add it.
2. “Overall we’re a pretty healthy football team. I think we made the most improvement during training camp in all three phases that we’ve made since I’ve been here, and kind of the fewest distractions, if you want to talk about injuries and things like that.”
During his opening statement even before he got into quarterbacks and depth charts, Ash said a few things about how it had been the best training camp and specifically that the most progress was made within an individual training camp beginning to end.
Dave’s take: This is all great about improvement as a team and individually, but what stuck out was his comment about distractions. It’s true Ash and staff are on the hot seat, but that has to be less of a distraction than the credit card situation last year. Also in retrospect, the staff seems to have realized the lack of depth had a trickle down effect last year. Some (not all) members of the default two-deep didn’t feel as much competition and didn’t have the focus required to win games.
In terms of injuries, Rutgers has to be healthy since they don’t have superstars waiting in the wings. If injuries pile up to key personnel, this season will go downhill quickly.
3. “Umass presents a lot of challenges ... because of a new staff.”
Ash talked about where several of the new Umass coaches including Walt Bell have been before and the difficulty in trying to predict what they are going to do. A follow up question came from James Kratch of NJ Advance Media about the fact that Umass has not named a starting quarterback either. Ash responded that he knows what Bell “wants to be” with his offense, but is not sure if he has the personnel to do it at this point. Andy Buh talked about having looked back “as far as Arkansas State” since they have had so much time with the game being a season opener.
Dave’s take: This is why I really don’t like season openers against opponents with inferior talent. Watch as much film as you can and go on a wild goose chase, but at the end of the day you really have no idea what the other team will do. There’s more film nowadays than ever, but it can also be information overload.
4. “Well, there’s nothing I’m going to say that is going to make them believe it. It’s going to be what we do on Friday night and then what we do each weekend after that.”
“And what we do each weekend after that.” Ash fielded a question from Steve Politi (also of NJ Advance Media) of any words he had to make the fans believe in his team. Several times earlier in the press conference Ash said similar statements to past years about how the players would compete hard and make the university proud. So Politi phrased his question well, giving Ash a direct platform to speak to the fans as to why they should believe in his squad. Ash then concluded his answer by simply “asking for people to give this team a chance.”
Dave’s take: Ash also mentioned the team’s identity is playing with excellent effort and competitive spirit multiple times. This is typical to hear year in and year out, but my concern is that the coach has to mention that. To me this probably means its no secret that there were effort and emotional deficiencies at times in 2018. That cannot happen in 2019 or else. If you take the emotion out of it, this is year four, so Ash is right that nothing matters other than winning.
5. “Football players feed off it.”
Andy Buh was talking about the incoming freshmen being brought to the stadium as part of convocation and how that energy helps.
Dave’s take: The main frustration fans on some of the message boards had was simply that the coaches, including McNulty and Andy Buh who also spoke, didn’t give any reason to really be psyched. I’m married so I know there’s nothing you can say in certain situations that is “right” and often the instruction is “fix it.” That being said, Ash would benefit by coming across a little less business like and more personable. At Ohio State you can be as robotic as you want if you win games, but there’s a reason someone like PJ Fleck gets hype to his program even if their talent is only equal at best to another divisional team like Iowa. Perception does matter in college football, though nothing helps or hurts it more than winning and losing.
Specifically, fans want to know about the depth chart. Buh did mention all available defensive linemen will play. Otherwise, fans want to know about quarterback, receiver, and safety. I don’t think anyone will say “No, I’m not going to the game if Christian Izien is starting over Tim Barrow,” or vice versa. And at receiver, who cares who starts? That being said, especially if the team is not winning, providing more reasons to see the team up close and feel knowledgable about what is happening isn’t a bad thing. If you win, nothing else matters. If you don’t, what do people take away from every game, press conference, new article, etc?
Let us know your thoughts on these takeaways and find link to Ash speaking below.
Offensive Coordinator McNulty:
Defensive Coordinator Andy Buh: