On the field, Rutgers has its work cut out for itself.
Consecutive shutouts and a 150-7 margin of defeat highlight a three-game skid for the Scarlet Knights (2-4, 0-3) ahead of their Homecoming game against Illinois.
“We train these guys for these moments and how to respond to these things,” said coach Chris Ash. “It’s never easy because even through losses, you don’t expect them to be like they have been the last few weeks. You hope they’re not. But I give our kids a lot of credit. They’re hanging in there. The morale is high.”
With that said, Ash sees similarities between the rebuild at Rutgers and the Fighting Illini (1-4, 0-2).
“I look at a team like Illinois and see a lot of similarities,” Ash said. “There’s a lot of transition at Illinois over the last year with three different head football coaches and athletic director. Administration has changed. Happened here. We’re going through a lot of the same things and there’s never an easy game. And this will be no different.”
Ash assured that the morale of his team is high. He said the focus is on the second part of the season and a strong finish.
“What we try to do is fill in the positive things that happen in games like that and keep moving forward,” Ash said. “I don’t sugarcoat it with our players. We have to do a better job of coaching in big games like that against really good teams and we have to get our players to play better in big games like that.
“The margin for error when you go against guys like Ohio State, Michigan — where our roster is right now with a relatively young coaching staff — is very little and we’ve got to do a better job in our preparation and our practice and what we do on game day against teams like that. … One small mistake turns into a big, explosive play on the other side — whether it’s offense, defense or special teams — and it just magnifies when you go against teams like that. But we focus on the positive things that we can and the things that we can control and we keep trying to get better and move forward as we want to with this season.”
As the NCAA explores rule changes in recruiting, one proposal that could become a reality is an early signing period.
The proposed rule change would create two three-day signing periods — one in June and one in December.
Ash said he is open to the change, to a degree.
“I’m for an early signing day, but more so in December and not for one that would happen for in the summer or in the spring or even in August,” he said. “All of those have been kicked around and proposed, but I’m more in favor of one in December and not that early. It’s just the recruiting process has accelerated so much already.
“We’re going to be recruiting guys younger and younger and younger and know less about them before they’re ready to sign. And I just don’t think it’s a good path, in my opinion, but we’ll see where it goes down the road.”
Ash said that early signing periods could bring mixed results.
“Just because you have an early signing day doesn’t mean the player’s going to actually sign,” he said. “Certain individuals, depending on who they’re being recruited by, if they want to hold out and wait and see if other things come their way, then they’ll probably do that.
“But they are two parts of it that sometimes — if we get on guys early before they go perform, maybe we can get a guy or two to sign, we get them locked up. But there’s also the other part — if we overextend ourselves and get a bunch of guys locked up, they don’t go on to have great senior years or we miss out on some guys that do have really good senior years or fall through the cracks or didn’t work out somewhere else and we miss out on an opportunity to get a really good player there, too.”null