Football News Conference - Sept. 5

Sept. 5, 2016

Head Coach Chris Ash

Chris Ash: Appreciate you guys coming. Always happy to have you guys here, and appreciate everything you guys do for our program and Rutgers athletics. Excited to play our home opener. I've said this many times, as a visiting coach, the experience that I had here at High Point Solutions Stadium has been a great one. It's been a great environment, and I hope to see that environment firsthand as a Rutgers football coach here this Saturday. Looking forward to having the students show up and support our football team and experience game day here with us. We spent a lot of time here as an athletic department trying to evaluate game day and trying to recreate it and make some changes to make it the best game day experience that you could possibly have. Obviously as the head coach, I understand that the product you put on the field and how you play really helps determine what type of experience fans have on game day, and we hope to continue to go out and improve and put on a good show and put a good product out there here this Saturday.

Injuries, I know a lot of people want to know about injuries here on the Monday media conference, but I won't make any comments about injuries to specific players unless there's an injury that puts the player out for some lengthy amount of time, and at that point then I'll make a comment when it's the appropriate time to do so, so I won't make comments about prospects of a guy playing or not playing next Saturday, unless, again, it's for a lengthy period of time and then I'll do so at the appropriate time.

Looking forward to Howard. Howard is a team that is well-coached, will play hard. Howard gives us as a program another opportunity to go out and show that we're improving, and we've got to go out and compete to show that we came back from last Saturday and continued to improve and worked on the things we needed to work on to get better. It's not a team that we'll take lightly. It's not a team that we'll overlook. I know when you look at the matchups like a Big Ten versus a school like this, that's what a lot of people think, and that's not going to be the case here. You guys will start to understand that every game is going to be approached the same way with myself, our staff and our players, and this will be no different than that.

With that, I'll go ahead and open it up to questions.

Q. You said you didn't watch a whole lot of film of last year's team. How much different when you were grading the tape from the Washington game was it to grade the players based off the game as opposed to grading them on a practice field or grading them in the weight room?
Chris Ash: Quite a bit different because there's an opponent that has something to say about the outcome. Any time you go and you play a game, you feel great about your plan. You feel great about your preparation. But the opponent has something to say about that plan when you step on the field. I sat back and we graded every aspect just like we will for every game about our players, our effort, our execution, the way we stuck together in good times and in bad, and the way we finished the game. The way we went through and graded and evaluated every player, every segment of the football team, we did that, and it won't be any different for any game that we play.

Q. What have the last 48 hours been like for you? In the past after a loss, you were trying to correct your area but now kind of involved in all parts of this game.
Chris Ash: No different. You know, as a head coach, you're doing the same thing. Whenever you go through a win or a loss, you have to go back and evaluate what helped contribute to the victory or what helped contribute to the loss, and that's exactly what we do every week. It doesn't matter who we play, where we play or what the outcome was. We're going to go back and reevaluate the goods and the bads, discuss them as a staff, discuss them with the player, and put together our plan for moving forward.

Q. You and Jay Niemann both said you saw better things out of the defense after the first quarter. What kind of things specifically, because obviously some of that is Washington is playing a little different with a big lead than they are at the start of the game and Jake Browning didn't play the fourth quarter, so what specifically says the defense played better and not Washington took it down a level?
Chris Ash: Well, it starts, one, with the stats. Statistically you look at the last three quarters of the game, and statistically we're a lot better than the first quarter itself. The first quarter we gave up a deep ball on the first 3rd down of the game. Next drive we gave up a deep ball on a safety, and then we gave up a deep ball to a corner, and all three different situations, all three different players, all three different groups. But you look at the second half or the second part of the first half and then going into the second half, you look at the stats, I think we did a nice job of stopping the run. I think we did a much better job of adjusting to the speed of the game. We did a much better job of defending the deep balls. I thought we tackled well. I thought our effort in our pursuit running to the ball was outstanding. So I think we really -- what happened I think early in that game, we were caught off guard by just how fast Washington was. John Ross was a guy we knew was fast, but he was not on tape last year, and he was fast. I think just the speed of the game kind of caught some of our guys off guard at the start, but I think we adjusted well and ended up playing what I would say pretty good defense the rest of the game after that first quarter. But I was much more encouraged by what I saw from watching the film than what the score would indicate or what you felt standing on the sideline watching the game. But I was really pleased with the way our guys stuck together, the attitude they had on the sideline, the way they kept playing. There was no quit, and I really was encouraged by the way that we just continued to go out. We got better. Our fundamentals were better. Our execution was better. Our effort remained high. Everybody was into the game, and being coached on the sideline, we were able to make adjustments to certain things that we hadn't necessarily practiced or seen, and again, that's a sign of a team that's mature and wants to be coached and do well.

Q. I see you have the identical depth chart from last week. Are there any battles that are maybe neck-and-neck and could we see any changes by game day?
Chris Ash: There's battles all the time. Just because a guy is named the starter for game 1 doesn't necessarily mean he's entitled to be the starter for game 2. You earn your reps on the practice field. Obviously there's some guys that when you look at the depth chart, they have an inexperienced guy behind them. There's some other positions that probably have a little more competition. But every day we want our guys to go out and compete; if it's not against their teammate at a position, against themselves to get better, and we're going to help create that competition. But right now there are not any depth chart changes on Monday. We'll see how we go through the week.

Q. I saw one analyst say from an outside observer's standpoint, didn't know how much they could say about Rutgers after a game like that, didn't know how much they could judge you guys yet, and my thought was, I wondered that about Howard. How much against a team that is clearly not a Big Ten level, how much can you learn about your team from a game like that? You seemed to have taken a lot from obviously the opener.
Chris Ash: Well, I think you can take a lot from any game that you play. In a loss you can find -- like I said before, you can find out where your team is at. We went and played an outstanding football team on the road, and we found out a lot about how we're going to handle that environment, that type of a trip and that type of talent. It's not the outcome that we wanted, but we know a lot more about where we're at and what we have to be able to do to compete in that type of environment moving forward. It's no different, you play an opponent that people assume is inferior to you, do you go out and actually do your job at a high level and execute consistently for four quarters and play the game that you need to play. That's all we're concerned about. If you don't do that, you find out a lot about your team. So we'll look at it -- regardless of who we play, where we play, we're going to learn something about our team every chance we go out there and get a chance to compete.

Q. Chris, Ahmir Mitchell said he's joining this program. My question for you is with how much you value character guys, why were you willing to take a chance on a guy who was just suspended from another program, and what kind of vetting process did you do into that?
Chris Ash: Well, I'll start with Ahmir Mitchell coming to Rutgers. I've known his family for a long time. I recruited his brother at Wisconsin and actually signed his brother at Arkansas, so I've known the family for a long time, known Ahmir for a long time. To get into speculation about what happened at Michigan, I'm not going to do that, and to say that we're taking a risk on a character, that's not fair to say for the kid, and that's not something I'm going to comment on here. But I can tell you, any player that we bring into the program, whether it's out of high school, junior college, prep school or transfer, we're going to do our homework on. We're going to talk to everybody we need to talk to to feel comfortable about his ability to fit into our culture and do the things we want him to do. Is everybody going to be perfect? No, they're not; I don't care where you come from. But we're going to do our homework and do our due diligence to make sure we're bringing in the right type of people into our program.

Q. As far as on field, can he play this year?
Chris Ash: Cannot.

Q. Coming from big programs over the past few years, Ohio State, Wisconsin, you really haven't been through a big loss like that, like the one you went through this past --
Chris Ash: Who, I haven't been through a big loss like that?

Q. In terms of a wide margin, in terms of touchdowns.
Chris Ash: I've been through -- as a coach, being in this profession for over 20 years, trust me, I've seen both ends of the spectrum. I've won big games, blown people out, and I've been blown out. It's nothing new for me.

Q. I guess that was my question then. Having been through at Ohio State where winning is just the norm there, was it surprising or shocking at all to kind of go through that, especially your first game as a head coach?
Chris Ash: No, like I've told you guys from the start, I've never talked about wins and losses. I've talked about what drives me is to get a team of individuals, coaches and players to go out and try to perform to our potential. Did that happen Saturday? No, it did not, and that's what I'm really disappointed about. Do I hope we win every game? Absolutely, and that's what we want and that's what everybody wants, but at the end of the day -- at the start of it, I want us to be a program that goes out and performs to our full potential every chance that we get. You talk about being at Ohio State and the success that we had. We had some devastating losses there, too. I used this example with the football team: 2014, second game of the season we lost to Virginia Tech at Ohio State the second game of the week there, and it was an ugly loss. We didn't play good in any phase of the game. I think we had like seven sacks on offense, three interceptions, we missed two field goals and we didn't play well on defense. What was the end of the result at the end of the season? We won the National Championship, and I know how we handled that. I know how we responded as a program and an organization. 2012 we were at Wisconsin, we went out and played Oregon State. We lost at Oregon State, and we did not play well in any of the phases on the football team. At the end of the year we were playing in the Rose Bowl. I've been there. I've done that. We have a plan. We have a process to continue to improve, and that is not going to change, and we'll never waver from it.

Q. Now that you've seen the film, what's your evaluation of how Chris Laviano played the other day?
Chris Ash: It's like I said after the game, there were goods and there were bads. The number one thing negative on Chris is he did not have good ball security. He put the ball in harm's way, and he needs to get that fixed. That's a big deal. We talked a lot about that in the decision making process to name Chris the starter. Chris has earned the right to be the starter here based on what he's done from spring and summer and through training camp, but he needs to protect the football. A couple times it was when he was running the ball, and that's not something he's done. He's got to get used to running the football and how to protect the ball when he is running. We have to do a better job of protecting him when he drops back to pass. Early in that game, again, just like on defense, offensively we had to adjust to the speed of their pass rush. We did not protect Chris the way we needed to. It doesn't give him an out for putting the ball in harm's way, but we need to do a better job completely all the way around on offense protecting the quarterback, protecting the football, so we don't put it in harm's way and put the football team in a bad field position.

Q. Following up on Ahmir Mitchell, from a football standpoint, what do you like about adding him to this program?
Chris Ash: Well, he's a receiver, and as you guys know, our depth chart, we're going to lose a lot of receivers when this year is over. I think he's a talented receiver that hopefully will be able to give us a playmaker next year when we're going to need it with these guys departing.

Q. The game day experience, getting back to that, I know you wanted to be involved with that. What type of changes do you expect, and Scarlet Walk, are you still going to continue that tradition?
Chris Ash: I'll start with the Scarlet Walk. Yeah, that's a tradition that we're going to continue. As we come through Scarlet Walk, we may add a couple new wrinkles to it that's yet to be determined. We'll decide that logistically here this week. But just overall game day experience, the pregame entrance, whether it be videos, music, how we come out into the stadium, the in-game experience with music and advertisement and things like that to get the crowd involved in the game, I think our game day crew of people have done an unbelievable job of going back through and dissecting what we do here at Rutgers or has been done here in the past, researching what other people do and putting together, I think, a first-class production that fans and products are going to be really excited about being a part of.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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