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September 10, 2018

Chris Ash

Piscataway, New Jersey

CHRIS ASH: Appreciate you guys coming. Again, as always, we appreciate all the coverage that you guys give us. It goes a long way.

Today we'll just recap the game a little bit and then talk about our next week's opponent. Obviously it wasn't a very good performance. Watching the game from the sideline, it was tough. It's a very good football team. Watching the film on the way home and again on Sunday, it wasn't a lot of fun to watch. When you play a really good football team like that, the margin for error is really, really small, and when you make some of the mistakes that we made in all three phases by our older players and some of our younger players, it's going to be tough to have an opportunity to win when you don't play your best, and that's really what it was.

When you play a team like that and you make mistakes, talented players take advantage of it, and things that you might be able to get away with against some other teams by getting off blocks or running things down, you can't do that, so to speak, against teams with that much talent. That was really a big issue on Saturday.

With that being said, though, I did think there were some good things that came out of it defensively; until a long touchdown scramble by Tate Martell there during the second half, we had defended the run fairly well. We had played fairly physical in the run game. Pass game, we struggled to get to the quarterback, we gave up some explosive plays in the pass game, but I did think there were some really good things to build on in terms of our run defense until that play happened there in the second half.

On Sunday we meet with our players. We practice with our players. We work on putting the game to bed. We did that yesterday, went through the goods and the bads from the game. Obviously it's not a lot of fun for the players to watch a game like that when you do that, but it was important that we did that, and we flipped the page and we got on to Kansas right away. That's our focus. That's where we need to be. It's our challenge not to let a game like Ohio State beat us twice, and that's really what we're trying to do right now as we get ready for Tuesday's practice.

This is a big game for us going on the road. Kansas has some good players, and any time, again, you go on the road against an opponent from another Power Five conference like the Big 12, anything can happen. We have to have a great week of practice, great preparation, great focus, learn from the mistakes that we made from last Saturday and continue to get better. We have to help some of our younger players get better in a hurry as we move forward here through the rest of the season.

Like I talked to the team, we won't let one loss on the road against a top-5 opponent, one of the best teams in the country, determine our future or determine our season in that one game. That's where we're at.

From an injury standpoint, we don't have any major injuries to talk about. Nobody coming out of that game is going to be missing any significant time. We do have players that will be listed day-to-day. May have some that will be listed as game-time decisions, also, going into next Saturday. But we did not lose anybody for any significant amount of time coming out of that game.

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

Q. You said no major injuries; what's the latest on Art, and do you expect him to be available this week?
CHRIS ASH: Yeah, he's day-to-day. He feels great. Obviously Saturday didn't feel real good, but he was here this morning, feels way, way better compared to where he was on Saturday. Felt better yesterday, felt a lot better today. Right now he'll be practicing -- he'll be limited for a little bit, but it really is just going to be about him dealing with the little bit of pain. But we don't anticipate him not playing next Saturday.

Q. With regards to your secondary, one, Bless, do you expect to have him back?
CHRIS ASH: He's still a wait-and-see, still going to be a week-to-week. He's not necessarily day-to-day, he's week-to-week. Still gathering some more medical information for him to make a decision about his knee. He feels great, but he's got a future that he's worried about, also. So we're just trying to get him as much medical information as we can from a lot of different doctors. He's going to see another one tomorrow. He's seen a few already. He'll see another one tomorrow, and based on the information he gets, he may be in a better place to make a decision about what's best, come back and play or not.

Q. The secondary, how concerned are you -- I know you had a true freshman start, but what's your comfort level in the secondary at this point?
CHRIS ASH: Well, this last Saturday we had Bless, Tre Avery, Kiy Hester, we had three guys that we have been counting on not be able to play, so that's a concern. It's a big concern. Tre Avery is week to week. I think right now today he's probably day-to-day. This week we're hoping to get Tre back. Kiy should be back. Kiy could have played last Saturday if we needed him to play in an emergency. He should be fine for this next week. But when you take two of what we considered really two of our top three corners out of the mix last Saturday going against a team like that, that's a big concern. I can't tell you without really looking at the rest of the schedule if we're going to face anybody quite like that the rest of the schedule in terms of the ability to protect, throw and catch the way they could, but we do need some of those guys to come back.

Q. You mentioned some of the freshmen playing a bigger role. Do you expect to use even more, and how is that kind of new redshirt thing gone so far through two games?
CHRIS ASH: I don't think we can use any more than we have already. I think the majority of them already have played in some role or the other, whether it be on offense, defense or special teams. There's really none left other than the guys that have already played.

Q. And about the rule?
CHRIS ASH: The rule is -- we're going to play the guys that give us a chance to win, and if at the end of the day, guys have only played in four games and they can redshirt, they'll redshirt. We're not worried about any of that stuff right now; we're worried about putting the best players that we can on the field that give us a chance to beat Kansas. That's it, and we'll worry about the redshirt rule later. Right now a lot of these players, young players, we need them on special teams, and they've done that. Some of them have been backups and they've gotten in for some snaps. We've got 10 games left. There's a lot of things that can happen between now and then, so the great is rule, love it. Hopefully at the end of the day there's some guys that play in four games or less and they can still redshirt, but we're not concerned about those conversations right now.

Q. Do you view this game as a measuring stick for the program on the road against a team of a similar position as opposed to playing --
CHRIS ASH: No, I don't look at it as a measuring stick, I look at it as a game that we need to go out and play better and we need to go out and try to win. One of our goals this season is to try to win our non-conference games. We do think that that's really important. We play in a tough league. We play in a tough division, and we need to win our non-conference games, and this is a non-conference game that we need to go out and win.

So I don't view it as a measuring stick, so to speak, by any means. I see it as a game that we need to go and play as good as we can play and try to win.

Q. With Art only being a freshman and this only being his third game, is there a certain amount of reps you'd like to see him get --
CHRIS ASH: Well, limited doesn't mean he's not going to be able to take reps. Limited may mean how many throws he can throw. But he's going to be able to get all the reps. There's nothing wrong with that. We just have to see how he progresses through the week and how many actual throws we'll be able to get him through practice. That really remains to be seen today. We'll see how he feels tomorrow when he wakes up. We'll have our practices laid out, and we'll adjust however we need to based on what he's able to do at practice.

Q. How do you feel your tight ends have done through the first two weeks, especially blocking? It seems like there has been a lot of production there, and there's been a bunch of missed chips or blocks that have kind of led to pressure on Art, hits?
CHRIS ASH: Yeah, I don't know about a lot of missed chips. I do know we had one last week where it was pretty good. We haven't asked them to do a lot of chips, so to speak, but we need more production from our tight ends. We want to have more production from our tight ends. There's a number of things that go into that. They've got to play better. They haven't -- we had some plays called, designed plays in the pass game for the tight ends, and it hasn't worked out for one reason or another, whether there was pressure on the quarterback, someone didn't run the right route, someone fell down. There's been some of that in the first two games.

But we need those individuals in that position to definitely be a strength for us. They really haven't been for the first two games, and that needs to be developed and needs to change as we move forward.

Q. How do you make sure your quarterback doesn't get hit as often as he has through the first two weeks?
CHRIS ASH: There's no guarantee. I mean, we're trying to protect guys. We've got to execute the protection. We've got to do it with great fundamentals. When you look at protection breakdowns, there are a few things. One of them, someone could have a mental error in a protection. Somebody could have poor fundamentals and get beat in protection. The quarterback may read his hot wrong, and he gets pressured or hit. So there's a number of things that go into it.

Do we want the quarterback to get hit? No, but we also have to get some guys out in the routes so we can be able to be effective in the pass game. So there's got to be a combination of some max protection, some seven-man protection, some six-man protection or some five, but whatever you choose to do, the proper execution needs to be there, the proper fundamentals need to be there. Just go back to Saturday. That's a very talented defensive line that we played. There will be a couple others that we play on the schedule that are very talented, but some of the issues Saturday had nothing to do with the protection that was called and had everything to do with either execution or poor fundamentals, and those are the things that we can't have. We can't beat ourselves with mental errors. We can't beat ourselves with poor fundamentals. And we talk to the team a lot about more games -- I think I've talked about that in here before. More games are lost than they are won, and how is that. Well, one, you don't give effort, and I don't have an issue with our effort. Two, you have mental errors, or three, you have poor fundamentals. And last Saturday's game, we had too many mental errors and we had too many plays with poor fundamentals by certain players.

Q. Aside from just blocking it better, when you went back and looked at the play that Art got hit, is there anything you would have liked to have done differently with the call, with the situation?
CHRIS ASH: You know, it's like any play; any time a play doesn't work, what do you do? You second-guess it. The play was designed to be a quick pass to Jonathan Hilliman right over the center. We knew they were going to drop into soft coverage. You know, all we had to do was hopefully block for a couple seconds. The quarterback was going to catch and throw, and that would be it. It didn't work. When it doesn't work, you always second-guess everything.

I think I said after the press conference when I was asked about it, well, if I knew it wasn't going to work, I would have called time out and said don't run the play. But we didn't think that it was going to go the way that it went.

That's the nature of coaching. When something doesn't work, you always second-guess it.

Q. Their offense, they obviously didn't have the freshman running back against Nicholls State they had against Central Michigan. How different does that look when he's in the game?
CHRIS ASH: He's a good little player. He was productive. He had a couple explosive runs against Central Michigan. I think they've got -- Kansas has some good skill players. They've got a couple running backs that are good. I think they've got several receivers that can run and make some plays. I think they've got a good scheme. But he did bring a different element to their offense in terms of the running game, and he's got the ability to take it to the house if you're not sound and you don't tackle well because he's really quick. He's got good speed.

Q. Davidovicz, I asked you during the summer what you know about him. Did he show you something being able to kick that field goal, Ohio State, different environment?
CHRIS ASH: Well, he's gotten better and better as we go on. I thought he had a great spring last spring. There were moments in training camp, at least early on in training camp, he was struggling with the workload of being our kickoff guy as well as our field goal guy. But as training camp wore on, especially as we got closer and closer to games, you could see his confidence start to rise. He was hitting more consistently from further out in practice. So where we were at there in that game, I had nothing but complete confidence in his ability to go out and hit it between the uprights, and he did that. But he's done a great job in practice, and again, it's the confidence that you see that he's gaining from the reps in practice, and we're putting a lot of stress on him in practice, and he's handled it great. More and more balls, again, from further out are going through the uprights. That was a big confidence boost for him to be able to go out there for the first time to hit a field goal from that distance in that environment, and he did a great job with it.

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