Chris Ash Presser: QB Spot Wide Open after Another Big Ten Loss

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers and coach Chris Ash re-opened the quarterback battle after a 24-7 homecoming loss to Illinois.

Chris Ash

COACH ASH: Obviously not the outcome we wanted. Disappointed. I thought we had a great week of preparation. The guys were focused. Had a positive attitude. Worked extremely hard and they were confident going into the game.

But you get five turnovers in a game you and really have no chance to win a football game. That's what it came down to. I thought we did a lot of good things on both sides of the ball. We ran the ball better. We threw the -- at times threw the ball better today. Had a little energy going. And every time we were in critical situations, shot ourselves in the foot. Again, five turnovers is really the difference in the game and that's the story of the game.

We can't allow it. We've got to keep getting better, and it's on me. I've got to do a better job of making sure that we are getting enough ball security things done in practice. Obviously we work it a lot, but obviously not enough. Those things can't happen.

So with that, I'll go ahead and open up for questions.

Q. Is there any common theme, lack of focus, execution?
COACH ASH: It's not lack of focus, lack of execution. It's lack of holding on to the ball better. It's as simple as that. We had the first one there on the punt return with Jawuan, and you know, he's been fairly sharp, fairly consistent back there for us, and you know, running back position, it's about ball security. It's about holding on to the ball and getting in traffic and putting two arms around it as much as anything.

Q. What went into the decision to pull Chris in the second half?
COACH ASH: Same thing. You know, we needed a spark. We've got an issue at quarterback. We've had one. We need to evaluate. I thought Gio came in and provided a spark for the offense. Moved the ball down the field several times. Had an interception. Missed some throws, but at least he could move the ball with his feet, and I like what he did.

That's a guy that didn't get a ton of reps this week through the course of practice but he showed enough that he could do some things with his feet and just made the decision at the half that we needed to go a different direction, so we did.

Q. Does that mean that it will be more of an open competition?
COACH ASH: It's open. It's completely open. We haven't had enough production at the quarterback position in the first half of the season, and we've got to open it up.

I like what I saw out of Gio today and we've got to continue to try to work him and work some of the others, but it is absolutely an open competition. We've got to figure out who can give us the best chance to consistently move the ball. I thought Gio did a nice job when he came in in the second half.

Q. This is the second straight week you've had to pull Chris. Have we reached a point of no return with him?
COACH ASH: We've reached the point where it's an open competition. We've got to look at doing something differently, whether it's him doing something differently or someone else has got to be in there, and we're at that point.

Chris has done a lot of good things and again, like I've said before, it's not all on him. But again, a lot of times, you've got to have a quarterback there that people trust, and every now and then when things break down, can make something happen. And Gio was able to do that for us in the second half, and we'll see if moving forward he can end up being the guy or if somebody else will, but he'll be right in the mix.

Q. But it will be open --
COACH ASH: It's open.

Q. -- to all the quarterbacks on the roster?
COACH ASH: I don't know many. But the quarterback position is open. How many will have an opportunity; that will be up for conversation as we go into next week starting tomorrow and Monday. But we've got to look at doing something different.

Q. Would you explain or fathom on what happened on both fourth downs?
COACH ASH: Bad snaps. You know, the first one, Derrick was just trying to anticipate the snap count. He thought we would snap a little bit faster. Quarterback didn't tell him to snap it and he snapped it, and it was a bad snap and the quarterback wasn't ready for it.

The next one, until I watch the film, I'm not sure exactly what happened. I think the snap was okay. Gio felt like he should have handled it better but didn't. I know the first one, Derrick just anticipated a snap count and snapped it early.

Q. I know it's right after this game, but is there a message you can share? It's got to be disheartening to come out of another loss. You talk about the second half being a fresh start, not the way you wanted to start.
COACH ASH: Absolutely. It's not. We talked about our keys to victory going into this game and it's our plan to win, but we wanted to make sure we had a focused football team this week. We wanted to have a positive mind-set and we wanted to be confident in our abilities to go out there and get the type of results that we wanted.

I can say when we started the game, I felt really good about having all three of those things with our football team. They were focused. They were focused all week. They were positive. They were confident they could go out and play the type of game they needed to play to be successful.

We talked about not beating ourselves. That was point two in our keys to victory: We can't beat ourselves. We've had mental errors in the last two games, big losses that killed us. Well, that's an area obviously that we didn't succeed in today is we didn't go out and play a clean football game. We beat ourselves with the turnovers.

We were cleaner with our assignments. Up front, we blocked guys better. We protected better. But we had the five turnovers and that's really where it's at. We talked about critical situations. We had to win critical third-down situations. Offensively, I think we got nine -- converted on nine of our third downs, and I think they were four of 13, Illinois was, which on both sides of the ball, that's not bad. But the critical situations that hurt us were the fourth down situations, so we didn't win the critical situations that we needed to.

And then we talked about the battle of field position and how important special teams was in having our success. Obviously we fumbled the first punt and we lost that area.

So when you look at those keys to victory, I thought we were clearly focused, we were positive, we were confident. But we beat ourselves and we didn't win critical situations and we lost the battle of field positions when he fumbled a punt.

Q. You talked about this a lot, being a long process. Have we reached the point where you had to start making decisions for 2017 and beyond?
COACH ASH: No, I'm a coach, we're a coach, we're a program. We're going to keep grinding. We talked to the players in there; there's a wall that everybody hits at some point, and that wall is the difference between average and good and good to great and great to elite. We're at that wall. We need to find a way to get over it.

Sometimes, you know, you look at games like this and it looked like the games the last two weeks, it looks like we're really far away. We're not that far away but we have to find a way to get over the wall and get over the hump. There are a lot of positives that I can take out of this game, unlike the last two.

The last two, there weren't any positives. We were annihilated. There's no secret to that. This game, there's a lot of positives I can take out of this game that we can build on. Again, preparation was there. The attitude was there. It's the small details.

Winning is very hard. I've told the team this. I've told the staff this; it's not just the players. Winning games is very, very hard, unless you're an elite team and have a bunch of guys that are better than everybody else.

But winning is really hard and the attention to detail has to be there from everybody. That's the coaches, that's the players, support staff, everybody. Accountability, having extreme ownership in your responsibilities has to be there on Saturdays and today unfortunately it wasn't, when it comes down to some of those keys to victory.

Q. Gio's touchdown, was that a design play or was it improvised?
COACH ASH: No, it was a design play. Yeah, that was all design.

Q. And the way it was executed?
COACH ASH: No, good execution. We were reading it and he had a run/pass option and did a nice job of reading his key and kind of lobbed the ball up over the line and it was a great catch by the tight end.

Q. With all the turnovers that were so damaging, at that point when he gets the touchdown you and get the three-and-out, you seemed pretty fired up there. Prior to that last pick six, did you think, maybe they could, you know, maybe you were on the way to a comeback?
COACH ASH: Oh, absolutely. I didn't think until the end, until the pick six, really that there was any opportunity, or really any time we were out of that game. I felt confident about our ability going into this game. You know, even at the first half, we were down 7-0. With the way that -- the turnovers we had in the first half, we were only down 7-0. That's unfortunate. We had played some really good snaps of football.

We come out in the second half, disappointed in the defense giving up a touchdown there right out of the gate. If we could have stopped them there and forced them to punt and get the ball back, 7-0, I felt confident. But even after that touchdown, we get a three-and-out, we get the ball back, there's more than enough time. We have the whole fourth quarter to go. Gio is giving us a spark. The sideline is juiced up. I absolutely thought we had a chance to come back.

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