Rutgers Coach Chris Ash Previews Penn State

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers coach Chris Ash wants one final moment for his seniors, and the opportunity comes Saturday against Penn State. Ash detailed his "state of the union" meeting with the team, as well as the latest on Janarion Grant.

COACH ASH: Looks like another beautiful November day. Appreciate you guys coming. Start just like normal and just give a quick review of the Michigan State game. Obviously disappointed about the loss.

I'm not going to stand up here and sound like a broken record week after week after week. We go through, evaluate the game. We look at the goods and bads and areas that we've got to continue to work on to focus. That's just where we are right now.

And that's what we did yesterday. Just like what we do on every Sunday. And there's things that we have to continue to work on, and we'll do that as we move forward. That's player development. That's scheme development. And trying to get more consistent on game day.

But that's for all phases of the program. That's players. That's coaches. That's offense, defense, special teams. But we evaluate it just like we always have.

And we move on. And that's where we're at right now. Last night we kind of went through a state of the union with our football team. We're a 2-8 football team. Nobody in the organization would sit here and say, hey, we're happy and thrilled to be 2-8 but that's where we're at.

And what we have talked about is handling this situation and our business moving forward like pros. Treat the game with respect. Show up to be the best that we can be every single day. And keep moving forward. And that's where we're at in year one of trying to build a program.

Every Sunday we come here, we have a team meeting. We evaluate the game from the previous Saturday. But we have a guest speaker on Sundays also. We had a really good guest speaker as we typically do on Sundays and in his talk he gave an analogy between building something, whether it be a program or a business, and the Chinese bamboo tree. Some of you guys have heard about that.

It was great for our players to hear that story about with the Chinese bamboo tree, you plant it, you go out every single day and water it, fertilize it and work it.

And underneath the soil it's growing. The roots are getting deeper and stronger. But you don't see any results above the surface for five years. And he talked to our players about that and that's where we're at. I'm not going to sit here and say we're not going to see results until five years down the road. But what we are doing in the program in year one is building a very solid foundation.

Those roots are growing underneath. They're spreading. They're getting stronger. But the results aren't there on Saturday. And that's where we're at.

But it was a great speaker, great analogy and great message to our players. I think right now I can tell you I love everybody in this organization -- the coaching staff, the players -- and it's because of the way they show up every single day.

And this is a tough year. It's been a tough year. It's a tough time. But the way the people show up to work every day, the way they believe in each other, trust in each other and go work for each other has been impressive to watch, and that's what I'm most excited about as we continue to move forward.

This week we've got Penn State coming to town. Very good Penn State football team. Obviously a huge win over Ohio State there several weeks ago that really kind of put them moving in a different direction, very confident football team.

But this week for us in this program it's all about ourselves and our seniors. It's senior day, senior week, senior day, Saturdaynight. We have a tremendous group of seniors here in this program that have been through a lot.

They've been through coaching changes. They've been through conference changes. They've been at bowl games, losses. Great years, bad years. They've put a lot of energy, a lot of time, a lot of effort into Rutgers University and Rutgers football.

And our focus as an organization, coaching staff, old players, young players, is to make sure that our seniors go and have one hopefully one last positive night in High Point Solution Stadium. They deserve that.

They've earned that and we're going to do everything we can to try to make sure that happens. That's our focus. And Penn State's an outstanding football team. And they're coming in and we've got to go give them our best shot and excited about being able to do that. And it's again the reason is because our seniors have deserved that effort and that right on Saturdaynight.

So with that being said I'll go ahead and open it up for questions.

Q. I know this will be your first Rutgers/Penn State game. Are you aware of, I guess, the fans, the Rutgers fan base feeling towards Penn State, the team, some of the teams, your team's feelings towards Penn State and coming off a game where you will felt there were some distractions? Will you talk to them about keeping that out against Penn State?
COACH ASH: I've been told a lot by fans when I first got here about a rivalry with Penn State and that's a game that they'd like to win. I know our players have a tremendous amount of respect for Penn State and their players.

A lot of them know each other. They played against each other a lot. So there's that respect. But there's that rivalry that they want to have also. So I'm aware of that.

Last Saturday we talked about distractions out on the game field. We talked about that. We talk about that after the game. We talked about that yesterday. That's not an issue. It was not a major issue. But it was one that was concerning to me because I hadn't seen that so far this season.

But it's been addressed. It's behind us and we'll move forward and don't anticipate that being an issue that we have to discuss again.

Q. When you talked last night about a state of the union with the players and being 2-8, how do they respond to that and the idea of like you said playing with respect and playing with focus the last two games?
COACH ASH: They get it. Like I said, we're not sitting around here pointing fingers at anybody. We're not sitting here feeling sorry for ourselves, we're not sitting here waiting for somebody to come dig us out of a hole. It's year one of trying to build a program. Have we been competitive in some games and had a chance to win some games in the fourth quarter? Absolutely we have.

We haven't gotten it done. That's the disappointing part. But nobody's down on what we're building. Nobody's giving up hope on what we're trying to do here, the players and/or coaches. And it's a positive environment when you walk in this building. Sundays are tough. Whenever you lose, Sundays are tough. But we get it out of our system. We move on. We get our focus turned to the next opponent and we have practice on Tuesday.

But the players have been off the charts and don't expect that to change. The indication that I got from them yesterday is that that's not going to change. It's going to continue just like it's been.

Q. Penn State's not only in the mix for a Big Ten Championship. The word spoiler gets tossed around. But do you use that as a motivational tactic for your team? What exactly is your team playing for?
COACH ASH: It's playing for the seniors. That's it. We're not talking about spoilers. We're playing for ourselves and we're playing for our seniors. We're playing to try to get better. But this week it is about the seniors. We have a lot of them. A lot of them that have done a tremendous amount positive things here at Rutgers, and that's what our focus is and we want to go out and play our best for them.

Q. You mentioned the rivalry with Penn State potentially, and a lot of the players, close proximity, some of them know each other. Can you sense a heightened enthusiasm to the start of the week with the players?
COACH ASH: A little bit, I guess. It's been mentioned by a few of them. But really what we want to create here is every game is a big game and we want tremendous enthusiasm and energy for every game that we play. I get it when there are some rivalries. There is some heightened energy and enthusiasm and focus.

And some of our older guys, especially, our guys they get that, and they'll have some of that this week because of the natural rivalry with Penn State. But we're trying to create that every week, to be honest with you.

Q. What did it mean for you early on to have a guy like Darius buy into what you are doing here, and just his impact overall as a leader for this team?
COACH ASH: Darius has been great. Anytime you take over a program like this you have to identify who the potential leaders are. Not only on the field but in the locker room, who are people going to listen to and people listen to Darius. He doesn't say a whole lot but when he talks people listen to him. And the fact that Darius bought into what we're doing and what we're trying to build here meant a lot.

And again the progress that we've been able to make here in this building, a lot of it has to do with Darius and what he's brought to the locker room and what he says in the locker room and how people listen to him.

Q. I know you're involved in a lot of different aspects of the program besides just coaching on the field. But when you look at some of the crowds haven't been what they could be this year, I know there were a number of Michigan fans here, is there concern about Penn State fans being in such close proximity that there might be a significant number of them here?
COACH ASH: I'm not concerned about it. I wake up every day trying to control the things that I can control. I can't control -- the only way I can control it is to make sure we put a good product on the field that our fans want to come be a part of. It's going to be a great night. It's Big Ten football. Seniors' last home game. I would hope that we have tremendous fan support for Rutgers and our players that they'll show up and enjoy the evening.

But I can't control that. Again, the only way I can control it is put a good product on the field and we're going to do that. There's going to be a time where, you might laugh now, but there's going to be a time that stadium's going to be filled with Rutgers fans regardless of who we play because of the product that we have on that football field and the way we go out and compete and have a chance to win football games. And if it's not there Saturday night I can't control that. But I think it will be because it's senior night.

And a lot of fans have a lot of respect for the seniors in this program.

Q. We've talked a lot about seniors so far. I think the question we get asked the most from fans is about Janarion. I guess two parts: One, can you give us any update how his rehab is going; and, two, do you expect his presence with this program to be determined like around the time that kids get their draft grades, because I know you said you put in that waiver request?
COACH ASH: Janarion's rehab is going great. He's around here a lot. He's got a smile on his face, feeling really good. He's doing great in the classroom. We're still in the information gathering phase to help him make the best decision moving forward.

We have not received all the information that we need. It's senior night and he's going to make a decision whether he's going to be announced or not be announced. It's not going to determine anything for the future.

We'll make that decision -- he and his family will make that decision sometime in December after we've gathered all the information on getting the year back, what it looks like for the NFL and things like that.

So he has not decided yet on whether he will go through a senior announcements on Saturday, but I'll be the first -- it's not going to matter one way or the other whether he is or isn't. That decision for him to come back or not won't be made until December sometime.

Q. Last game you started Damon Hayes over at corner. How has he played and how's his progression this year?
COACH ASH: Damon's done a great job. I like the potential of Damon Hayes moving forward. He's gotten better every single week. I thought he played pretty well Saturday. If I was to critique Damon on some things, he was a little high on some of his tackling, but in coverage I thought he did a very good job.

He's played more and more as we've gone through the season, whether it be at nickel, corner, special teams, he's been involved in a lot. I love his attitude, his work ethic. He's very committed to trying to be a great football player. And I can't say enough good things about him, very excited about his future here at Rutgers.

Q. From a personnel standpoint, Gio is still your guy and Tylin could he get more of a role after you've reviewed the film?
COACH ASH: Gio is, like I mentioned when we made the decision to go with Gio at quarterback, he's our starting quarterback and that's not going to change this week or next week unless there's an injury. Tylin, that situation hasn't changed either. Tylin's reps in games will determine by, one, how we prepared; two, the situation in game. Does it afford itself to put Tylin in.

Last Saturday the game was out of control. We needed to put Tylin in just to get him some game experience. He did a nice job. Ran the ball well, struggled with passes, ran the ball well and had some production. And we need to continue, hopefully continue to get him in the next few games if, again, the situation allows itself to put him in and he's done a great job during the week of preparation and feels good with the game plan.

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