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RUTGERS UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE

November 13, 2017

Chris Ash

Piscataway, New Jersey

CHRIS ASH: Appreciate you guys coming as usual on Monday. Just to go through and quickly review our game from last week after watching the film and move on to the next game. Obviously, we watched film. It was a loss, and you try to identify the things you did good, bad, and what you could have done differently. At the end of the day, we just made too many mistakes in all three phases to be able to win a game against a good team on the road like that.

You know, when you win games and you can win them and make mistakes and learn from it, that's one thing. But when you play a really good team and you make the mistakes we made, you don't have a chance to win. They get magnified. They get exploited and good teams make you pay for mistakes that you make. That's really what happened last Saturday.

We played hard. We played physical. I thought the line of scrimmage, both lines, offensive line and defensive line both played well. We ran the ball well, we stopped the run, applied pressure to the quarterback. We protected our quarterback well. Like I mentioned after the game, skill on skill, was the difference in the game. They were able to make some plays in the pass game, we were not able to make plays in the pass game. Battle of field position because of some special teams snafus on our part, obviously, hurt our ability to make a difference in that game too. So those are the things that killed us. The other thing was just, like I mentioned after the game, situational football.

We weren't good on third down. Being able to move the sticks and get to first downs and red zone. We were 0 for 4 defensively in the red zone. They scored four touchdowns, and we were 0 for 3 in the red zone offensively with getting only two field goals.

So battle of the field position and situational football and some of the mistakes we made in all three phases led to the score that we had. But as I mentioned before, not down on our team at all. Very encouraged still by our football team the way they work, the way they come together, we are a much more physical football team than we were a year ago. I know you guys are going to ask a lot of questions about offense and pass offense and all that stuff, and I'll go ahead and address it before we even get to that point.

Last year, in 2016, we had a lot of problems. We couldn't run the ball, we couldn't stop the run. We couldn't protect the quarterback. We couldn't throw it. We couldn't play special teams. And you look at our football team now, I would say we've improved in a lot of those areas, but not all of them. It's tough to fix all the issues that we had in one year, and we're working on it. We're working on it every single day. We have conversation about it, about our passing offense every single day.

When you look at our personnel that we're playing with right now, there are four wide receivers and three true freshmen and Janarion Grant who were not here in the spring to practice. Jerome Washington wasn't here in the spring to practice. Gus Edwards wasn't there in the spring to practice. Kyle when he was here he wasn't here in the spring to practice. So, to have a really highly efficient, effective passing game, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of reps. Unfortunately, we're not where we want to be, where we need to be. But we'll get where we want to be here at some point, and we'll keep working it and grinding away with it and developing the players and the schemes that we have to make it more efficient, more effective, and hopefully help us down the road here in the last two games.

With that, as we move forward, we put this game behind us fairly quickly. Our focus has turned to Indiana. It's another tough challenge to go on the road. Indiana is a good football team. They hit a tough stretch and played some really good teams early in the season. They won last Saturday. They are a physical football team. They play extremely hard.

I've had a lot of respect for what Kevin Wilson did at Indiana and now what Tom Allen is trying to do there by moving it further ahead. They are a physical team, they play really hard. They have great players and playmakers on both sides of the ball. It's going to be a tremendous challenge. We have to have a great week of practice, and we have to play our best football game to have a chance to compete and win that game. So with that, I'll open it up for questions.

Q. You just mentioned the receivers and Janarion Grant and three freshmen. Does that mean Damon Mitchell's out?
CHRIS ASH: No, I'm just talking about who we've been playing with. Damon was here in the spring, but he wasn't a true receiver. We were trying to make him one. I'm talking about the guys that have been playing. I'm not talking about next Saturday. I'm talking about guys that have been playing. There are four wide receivers that we're playing with right now that were not even here in the spring. A lot of them didn't get many reps in training camp because we were still trying to figure out what they could do and how they were going to fit into our offense.

It's not an excuse. It's not a blame game. It's reality, it is what it is. It's not where we want to be at all. It's not where we should be, and it's not what we will be as we move forward at some point.

Q. Is there an update on Damon?
CHRIS ASH: I'm not going to talk about injuries. We've got typical injury situation that we've had for the last few weeks. There are going to be guys that are day-to-day, and there are going to be guys that are game-time decisions. It's late in the year. We've got bumps and bruises like everybody else. As coaches say, we've got injuries. Well, everyone's getting injuries this time of the year. You've got to deal with it, you've got to manage it, and get guys through the week. Hopefully get some guys back by the time the foot hits the ball on Saturday. That's where we're at with some guys.

There will be some guys limited in practice. There will be some guys that will be back on Tuesday, that may have been banged up in the game on Saturday.

Q. With Saquan Hampton back, are you considering moving Jawuan Harris back to wide receiver?
CHRIS ASH: It's on the table. It's up for discussion. Jawuan was another one that was a top returning wide receiver for us that when baseball was over, he had a back injury. Missed most of summer. Missed most of training camp. Never really got going offensively. Then we had to move him defensively or we wouldn't have been able to lineup in the secondary.

If Saquon Hampton is completely healthy and K.J. Gray is completely healthy, then there is, you know, an opportunity, potentially, to move Juwan back. We have not made that decision yet though.

Q. Offensive and defensive line, where have you seen them improve or grow as the season has gone on?
CHRIS ASH: In everything, to be honest with you. We're still not rushing the passer like we need to. But really it's more of the nature of our make-up with our personnel. When you identify like who are your true pass rush guys, we don't have many. We're more of a big, strong, physical, tough guy mentality on the defensive line. Kemoko is probably our one pure pass-rusher right now today.

But defensive line-wise, I think we use our hands. I think we're really stout in there. I think in the last two weeks we've applied more pressure to the quarterback. We've gotten six sacks here in the last two weeks combined. I think we only had seven the previous, whatever, eight games of the year. So we've improved in that aspect of it. But I've really liked our defensive line play through the majority of the year.

I know a lot of you guys think Michigan ran for 300-some yards. That wasn't the D-line, that was our inability to support the run from the secondary more so than it was anything to do with our defensive line. Offensive line, I think we continue to get better. I think we've been able to run the ball consistently here in the second half of the season. I wish we could have run the ball like we are right now in the first half of the season.

But it is what it is, and we're getting better from that standpoint. I think we're protecting the quarterback better also. We haven't given up a lot of sacks. There is a combination of things for that. The quarterback, Gio has been able to avoid pressure with his feet. We've been getting rid of the ball quicker, but the protection has been better too. So I've been pleased with the progress up front on both sides of the ball.

Q. You mentioned Saquan Hampton. What is your expectation for him the last two games and how much did you miss him when he was gone?
CHRIS ASH: Saquon's a good player. Expectations are he comes back, he's healthy, and plays as good as he can play and helps us win one of these last two games, whatever it is. But we missed him because we lost some flexibility to rotate guys in. We lost some flexibility with some sub-packages that we could have used with him gone. But I'm going to give Jawuan Harris and K.J. Gray, even when Kiy got healthy again, those three guys have played pretty good football. The drop off wasn't -- really didn't show like we were worried about, and they were very productive. They were good in the pass game. They made plays on the ball.

But it's going to be nice to get Saquon back, because it allows us to do some more things from a substitution standpoint to keep guys fresh, and some sub-packages for certain situations where we get more DBs on the field.

Q. Do you want or need to see Jonathan Lewis in an extended role to know what you have going forward next season?
CHRIS ASH: No, no, we need to do what we needed to do to try to win these last couple games. It is unfortunate that Johnathan suffered a high-ankle sprain at the Illinois game, and it really prevented him from getting a lot of practice reps and game reps. It's very unfortunate. I feel really bad about it. We're at the point of the season where this isn't about evaluating for the future. This is about how do we play the best football we can play the next two weeks? That's it.

We have a pretty good idea of what Johnathan can do. If he can get in and help us play as good as we can play in the next two weeks, then we're going to play him. If he can't, then we won't. We build for the future every single day. We do developmental work with our young players every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. It's non-stop. We have a pretty good feel for what our young guys can do, including Johnathan. And, again, if he's in the plans to help us play as good as we can play and win, we'll play him.

Q. I know it's every coach's hope that a rotation position like you have with Gus Edwards and Robert Martin will work out. But then egos come into play, and NFL aspirations and all. How have these two guys been able to handle that and figure it out without any problems?
CHRIS ASH: I think they both understand as a running back in this league, you're going to take a pounding. If you're a running back or on a team where the running back's going to run it 30 times, your shelf life's not going to be very long. Your opportunities to be healthy and maybe go on and have a chance to play at the next level might not be there because your body's going to take a beating. I think they understand that if you're healthy, you're fresh, you're going to be a better running back in the moment. If you're healthy and fresh, you're going to have a better opportunity down the road.

So I think they both have embraced that. They understand it. They fed off of each other. They're both competitive and they both want the ball. But they both cheer for the other one when they're in there too. It's not just those guys, but Josh hicks has been very selfless this year also. Raheem Blackshear, he's shown flashes and wants the ball and wants to make a difference also.

That's what you want in the room. But at the end of the day, they all are big-picture guys, and they want to do what's best for the football team, and they also are thinking long-term that this is what is best for them long-term. Anytime you can rotate guys and keep them fresh and limit the pounding that they take.

Q. You're going to hate this question. From a big-picture standpoint, how important would making a bowl game be?
CHRIS ASH: I'm worried about Indiana.

Q. In year two of your progression?
CHRIS ASH: Worried about Indiana. That's it. We've got to play our best football, and we've got to keep getting better. If a bowl game is in the cards because we played our best football and it's given us a chance to win, then great. But we're more concerned about Indiana, and we have to play better. We can't make the same mistakes that we made this last week against Penn State or Indiana will beat us too.

Q. The defense is clearly improved from year one to year two. How close is it to playing the style of defense you would ideally like to play?
CHRIS ASH: We're closer. We're not where we want to be because we haven't been consistent in games that we've played the quote unquote best teams in the league. We have not performed the way we'd want. You know, we're not consistently being dominant and stopping the run. We're not getting after the quarterback enough.

We are getting our hands on balls in the secondary for interceptions, but we want more. There's a lot of things we need to do better, but I measure us based off our progress and our improvement. And I think our progress and improvement has been drastic from a year ago, and we need to continue that as we go forward the rest of the season into next season and here after.

But I think our players truly believe in what we're doing. They have a much better understanding of what we're doing. I think we've done an outstanding job of physically developing the players to get bigger and stronger, and we have to do that every year. Next year will be another set of challenges. But I think defensively we're going to have a lot of players back next year, and I would hope that there is continued significant improvement defensively.

Q. The last month did you feel like the team maybe rallied around the idea of maybe a lack of outside respect and to that extent, you probably don't even know this, but you're an 11-point underdog against Indiana, do you think they'll use that?
CHRIS ASH: No, we wouldn't talk about it. Again, you guys, this last month has had nothing to do with us winning a few games. We've been fortunate enough to win three games. Literally comes down to us being more disciplined and us making more plays and being good in situations. When you win games, that's usually what it is. When you lose games, you look to those areas. Like I just mentioned last Saturday, we weren't disciplined enough. We had a critical penalty on third and one on the opening drive, killed the drive. We were bad in situational football, third down and red zone.

When you win games, you're probably pretty good in your penalties, your turnover battle, field position battle. Third down, red zone, has nothing to do with motivation over a point spread. It's about playing your best and doing well in situations, and that's what our motivation is right now. Thank you, guys.

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