Rutgers Press Conference Central: Scarlet Knights Beat New Mexico 37-28

Scarlet Report takes its members inside the Hale Center for the breakdown on a Rutgers 37-28 victory over New Mexico with commentary from head coach Chris Ash, defensive coordinator Jay Niemann and offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer.

COACH CHRIS ASH: Go ahead and just start again thanking our fans and thanking the students for showing up today and supporting the football team. I thought once we got going, they actually helped us regain momentum in the game, create a lot of energy and excitement in that game for our football team and can't thank them enough.
Obviously come-from-behind victory again against a very good opponent. Coach Davie and his staff do an outstanding job. The team was well prepared. They play hard. They are exotic with their schemes. The option was not going to be a treat all day long and it wasn't; it was challenging. Especially when you start the game, the speed of the game and the option comes at you a lot faster than anything you can practice.
Defensively, it's a unique scheme, a lot of pressure, a lot of cover zero. Got a bunch of big plays against their offense and we were able to get a bunch of big plays also. Can't say enough about our players, for the second week in a row, we come out of the gate and we get down but nobody flinched. Everybody believes in themselves, in each other, in our plan, and we just kept going. We made the plays that we needed to.
To come back and get in that game and go ahead and win it; and again, these guys, I just can't say enough about them. And their attitude and their effort and the chemistry, the brotherhood of trust that they have right now, you just don't do those things if you don't have it. I can't say enough about where they are at right now and how they continue to grind and work the process as we get ready for a game each week.
We have got to get better. There's no doubt about it. We have to get better. We all have to get better; players, coaches, we have to get better in everything that we do, either through preparation or on game day. But I really like this football team right now and how they stick together and how they fight through adversity. We call that E+R, and there were some big E's out there the first quarter, and we responded the right way and very happy for these guys. With that, go ahead and open it up.
Q. Obviously you come back and win the game, but the first quarters at this point, is it enough to be an alarming trend for you?
COACH ASH: No, I'm not alarmed. I knew this was going to be tough because of the option. I've played enough option teams that it usually takes a little bit to get settled in and get used to the speed of the game. They threw out a lot of different formations and plays in that first quarter that we had not seen defensively out of two years of film study.
So my hat's off to them. They did a great job of coming up with an opening script and getting us off balance, and it took us a little time to get used to the new formations and some of the new plays that they were running. And once we did and settled in, we started to make some plays.
Obviously one touchdown in the final three quarters of the football game, I believe, and that says a lot to our coaches and our players, to be coachable and make the adjustments necessary on the sideline to get settled down.
Again offensively we started slow in the first quarter. Again, those guys, they run an odd front. They run a lot of six-man pressure, a lot of cover zero, and again I knew going in that they would make some plays, some big plays against us; and if we just kept going, we were going to make some big plays against that style of defense and that's what happened.
And then obviously special teams, Janarion Grant, another big week, another big play that just changes the momentum of the football game, and can't say enough about our return units right now and the way that those guys prepare and what happens on game day with them.
Q. I'm sure nothing Janarion does stuns you at this point, but his returning ability, does it change the game itself, the way teams approach him?
COACH ASH: I would think it would start to; if it hasn't yet, I would think it would start to. He's dynamic with the ball in his hands, and he can make a lot of people miss. He's got great change of direction. He's got great vision. He's got good speed.

You know, when you've got a guy back there, it makes the rest of the units better because they know it only takes one block to spring him and they want to have that block and that's what happened again today.
Q. When he starts out making the mistake that he made, I'm sure he was disappointed, but what does it say in the way that he personally rebounded and what else he did?
COACH ASH: It says a lot about him and his character and his teammates, because when you get -- make a miscue like that, you need someone typically to pick you up. There was no pointing fingers, no complaining, and everybody was over picking him up. They knew that the next opportunity he had, he would make something happen and he did just that. It was not a great play with the fumbled punt at the beginning but he definitely made up for it and he did it when we needed it most.
Q. What's your evaluation of Chris Laviano's performance today?
COACH ASH: You know, just like it's been for the last three games, goods and bads. There were a lot of short, easy passes we that missed today. I obviously put Zach Allen in for a series in the second half, and it was more to calm Chris down.
We thought there were a lot of throws on the field for us to get and he missed them and he just was going through a bad stretch in the second half. We needed to pull him out and just get his mind right and give Zach a chance to go in and see what he can do, and we ended up putting Chris back in the game.
You know, Chris has to get better. He has to continue to trust the offense, trust his reads and make the throws that we need him to make.
Q. Why is Allen the right guy there, when in a tight game, you've already played Gio and Oden?
COACH ASH: Like I told you, there's nothing set with the backup quarterback position yet. It's going to be really by committee based on the preparation throughout the week. Zach had a great week of preparation. He knew the game plan. He executed well in practice and he deserved that right to go in as the backup quarterback today.
And again, it's just going to be by performance in practice. You earn the reps you get on Saturday and Zach earned those reps from his performance in practice and his continued attention to detail and his preparation.
Q. Can you take us through the decision to punt on the 28-yard line?
COACH ASH: It's a field position game. I think we've had a lot of discussion about our kicking game concerns and at that moment, I thought it was better to play the field position game and try to pin him in, and obviously it worked out.
I thought we had done an outstanding job with our pooch punt situations in practice, and Dacoven Bailey made a heck of a play. First we got a good snap, a good punt. Dacoven Bailey made a heck of a play to pin him on the one-yard line.
I had enough confidence in the way our defense was playing at the time that we could change the field position and if we could hold him and make him punt and get a good punt return that, we would be right back and hopefully better field position than what we ran in and it worked out.
Q. That being said, I know he doesn't have the longest range but how happy are you with Bonagura's accuracy's so far?
COACH ASH: I'm really pleased with the progress of Bonagura throughout the first three games in the season. To be honest in training camp, I didn't know if he could make anything. He just stuck to it. He continues to grind. His confidence continues to grow.
The confidence in the football team and the coaching staff of his ability to go out and make kicks when he needs to is growing. Really proud of that kid for what he's done and what he's been able to do each Saturday out there.
Q. Has anything about what Janarion has done, has it taken you by surprise? I ask that in the sense that I'm sure you knew about him when you inherited him and I'm sure you were excited about having him, but anything on game day that's surprised you or impressed you more than you might have thought?
COACH ASH: No, not really. I guess what surprises me is when that when people know he's the go-to guy and he's the guy they've got to stop, but he can continue to make the plays that he makes; that's a little bit surprising.
But I'm really happy for the kid. He's in a really good spot right now. Shows up every day and grinds and believes in his teammates and teammates believe in him, and he's really happy right now to be in the offense and be a featured player on this football team and I just love the way he plays.
Q. At outside linebacker, how did Greg Jones look at the option with his assignments and was Clayton available?
COACH ASH: Jones did a great job today. We knew the whole option was going to be a problem, and cut blocks were going to be a big problem. The speed of their backs and their quarterbacks on the edge was going to be a problem.
There were times we were pretty good. There were times we were not. We got cut a couple times. We played off the cut blocks a couple times. I thought Jones did an outstanding job.
Just a quick update on Najee Clayton. Najee is not with us right now. He has stepped away for personal reasons right now and was not here with us today, and not sure what his status will be moving forward. But Najee Clayton is not with us right now.
Q. Robert Martin, your thoughts on his play.
COACH ASH: Outstanding. I think 170 yards rushing. That's the type of running back that we need. That's the type of running back that we expected out of Rob.
And again, we've talked about the time that he missed during training camp, I think he's pretty much full speed and running exceptionally well right now. He's getting some really tough yards and can't say enough about what Rob did and what he brings to the offense, and we need him to continue to get better and we want to be a team that can run the football and we can win at the line of scrimmage and we've done that the last couple weeks.
Q. Iowa losing this afternoon, how important is getting this win today going into the week?
COACH ASH: Every week is important. You know, a win every week is important. I'm not even concerned about that. I'm just concerned about us continue to go get better and try to play to our full potential. Whether Iowa wins or loses, it doesn't really matter to us. We have got to worry about our ourselves and focus on our preparation and on our improvement.


On responding after a 21-0 deficit...

“We settled down and played better. Honestly, when you go into a game like this, typically you don't have a very long call list. It's just by the nature of the way you typically defend academy offenses and this kind of an offense. It was a matter of just going to the sideline and explaining to the guys what had gone wrong and making sure that they were ready to make the corrections. I'm always concerned about the speed of the game going into a game like this because you just can't simulate anything close to it with your scout teams. It's not an excuse but it just takes a while sometimes to get into the rhythm and the timing of the game and the speed that the offense is working at. They threw a lot of formations and some things at us that we weren't expecting early on. Once we got adjusted and caught on, fortunately we were able to settle down and play better defense.”

On Darius Hamilton and Julian Pinnix-Odrick...

“Any time you're playing this kind of offense, the first thing you've got to do is stop the fullback, stop the dive plays, zone-read cutback plays, things like that. Those guys did a really nice job in there. In addition to that, I've got to look back at the film of course, I thought they did a really good job of pressuring the passer when it came time for them to throw the ball and it was inevitable they were going to have to.”


On the play of Chris Laviano...

"As a whole, on offense, if we're going to try to win — more decisively, I thought, that we could have in that game — we've got to throw and catch the ball better. You look at the passing stats and I think that's a telling statistic. So I think for both the quarterbacks (Laviano and Zach Allen) — and the wide-out unit is included in that — we've got to throw and catch the ball better. That's the one glaring issue that I thought that we had today."

On why Zach Allen was the backup quarterback instead of Giovanni Rescigno or Tylin Oden...

"Zach Allen had a great week of preparation. He really did. And at that time, in the game, Laviano was struggling a little bit. And, so, he needed a breather to kind of reassess the situation, get his mind back into, I guess, the right frame of mind. So Zach was right person to go on the first series. He came back. Laviano was fine after that."

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