Behind Enemy Lines: Rutgers

The Terps host Rutgers Nov. 26, and to gain more insight into the Scarlet Knights, we spoke to publisher Sam Hellman.

The Terps host Rutgers Nov. 26, and to gain more insight into the Scarlet Knights, we spoke to publisher Sam Hellman. Our question-and-answer session with him is below:

Terrapin Times: What's the feeling surrounding the Rutgers program right now in Year One under Chris Ash? Is he getting a pass since this is like a transition year? Are fans encouraged by the incoming recruiting class and what Ash is working towards? Or are there grumblings and gripes in Piscataway?

Sam Hellman: The feeling for most inside and outside of the football facility is one of disappointment in what was a brutal season. The difference? Inside the football facilities and with the program, there is a ton of understanding and optimism about the future. Casual observers have no idea how bad things were before the coaching and AD changes at Rutgers. It doesn't get fixed in a year, but there is still plenty of frustration when you totally start over and what feels like a sacrificed season for the greater good. Most fans are discouraged by the product, and they certainly have a right to be. Imagine paying $700 to sit through those Michigan and Penn State games.

TT: Despite the record, how have the players responded to Ash and his staff? Are they confident in where the program is heading?

SH: The players that are still here responded well. Ash made it clear that this wasn't a country club anymore and continues to hold players accountable in ways we haven't seen since Greg Schiano left for the NFL. Players are confident in the future, the ones that will stay. There will be more attrition than the three scholarship players already grad transferring. It's a lot different than last year where some players clearly gave up by game 11. These players are still playing hard. It's just not enough.

TT: What needs to change for Rutgers to end the season on a winning note? What have been the team's main issues, and can some of them be rectified heading down to College Park?

SH: Rutgers just needs to play smarter offensively. Players are there but every time there's about to be a big score, a blocker misses and assignment or the quarterback or some other miscue. Rutgers is a solid defensive team, and played well against Penn State for three quarters. For Rutgers to get a win, luck has to be involved. With how absurd the first few Rutgers/Maryland games have been in Big Ten play, who knows? 

TT: Rutgers and Maryland have several crossover recruiting territories and have pursued many of the same recruits. How much of a priority is the new staff placing on the DMV, and do you see them having a significant presence here moving forward?

SH: I wouldn't call the DMV a priority but the staff is involved and known in the area. I expect Rutgers to go for 1-2 players per class in the area but not necessarily Maryland-priority guys. Damon Hayes out of Upper Marlboro was one of Ash's most impactful signees in last year's recruiting class. Right now, they have Tyshonn Fogg out of Calvert Hall and remain in the mix for a couple of other kids in the 202 and 703.

TT: What is the general feeling towards Maryland? Do Rutgers folks see UMD in the same boat as them, with a program in transition? Or is UMD seen as a potential up and comer with D.J. Durkin at the helm and the current No. 15-ranked recruiting class?

SH: The general feeling towards Maryland right now is probably indifference. I don't mean that in a negative way. Rutgers fans are concerned primarily about Rutgers first. When you lose the way Rutgers has in football and are not competitive in a lot of other Olympic sports as Pat Hobbs rebuilds the athletic department. Rutgers and Maryland are newcomer brothers but the Terps have the easier transition (and the better financial transition deal to boot). When Rutgers gets better, maybe the trash talk and rivalry feelings can rekindle like the home and homes from 10 years ago.

TT: What is the feeling at Rutgers in Year Three of the Big Ten? Is Rutgers seeing similar benefits (if not on-field results quite yet) as the Terps have seen?

SH: The benefits are massive for Rutgers but not as obvious as they are for Maryland. Rutgers has a medical partnership with a massive New Jersey company. Rutgers broke ground on two new practice facilities and renovated its football weight room. Rutgers has a long way to go to get Big Ten competitive with facilities but there is plenty of tangible evidence that change is coming. In Maryland vs. Rutgers recruiting, the Scarlet Knights' have quite a respectable ranking and showing so far given how bad the  last two years have been. If you ask 100 Rutgers fans, 90 of them will say they're happy with the way the class looks so far.

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