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RUTGERS UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE

October 8, 2018

Chris Ash

Piscataway, New Jersey

HEAD COACH CHRIS ASH: Thanks for coming. Go ahead and get started here.

Just would like to start, last Saturday after the game, and I've been asked this several times, I'm asked, where does the program go from here. I've answered the question several times, but I'll take the opportunity to talk about a quick program update before we get into the Illinois review and Maryland and all that stuff.

You know, it's year three of a rebuild. We're 1-5 and it's not where we want to be. It not where we're going to be. But there was a lot of work that needs to be done, a lot. We've done a lot of work, and there continues to be a lot of work to build the program to the level that we want it to be. We were hoping we would be further along than we are right now after six games, but we're not, and that's where we're at.

This team has a lot of fight, a lot of character. It has great chemistry. It has a lot of love for each other. These players show up every single day to work and try to improve to be the best that they can be and as long as they continue to do that, we will continue to improve and get better as we go along.

You know, we're working hard on the program to build a lot of things: Build a culture, build the roster, build competitive spirit within the team, build up facilities. There's a lot that we are trying to work on in a short amount of time to continue to move the program forward.

It's been a long process. There have been road bumps. Obviously this start of the season here has been a major road bump but it's not a setback and it's not going to change our long-term plans or change our long-term goals. It's where we're at, and you know, we'll keep moving forward from there.

A lot of people think that when you're 1-5, the sky is falling and I know on the outside when people are not here every single day, that's the perception and that's the thought, but that's not reality. This is a group of outstanding young men that work extremely hard, like I mentioned earlier, and they really want to represent this football team, themselves and this university in a first-class manner.

We're building up the roster. Again, trying to get it deeper and again, there are some things that we have to overcome as we do that.

But I am pleased with the attitude of this football team. Yesterday when we met, reviewed the game, go out and practice, again, they are very resilient. A lot of pride, and continue to do the things that we ask them to do.

When you look at the Illinois game, you know, again, perception is that we're really far away. We're really not. You look at defensively, we played 62 snaps in that game and in those 62 snaps, we gave up 419 yards. The unfortunate thing, 207 of them came on four plays.

Still, it's four plays that you can't have, but four plays. Each play was a different individual. Each play was a different issue. Two of those four plays we had a couple missed tackles on. Two of them were mental errors or just a lack of discipline of staying where they are supposed to stay. When you get those things fixed, the results of the game or the production in the game looks completely different.

But we have to coach things better. We've got to play things better, and we have to continue to find a way to get that done because it's a recurring problem. Again, if it was one individual, one unit, it would be a lot easier to fix, but it's not, and we'll continue to try to get it to where it needs to get. We'll continue to try to get it to where it needs to get.

Offensively, we're not scoring the points that we necessarily would like but we are getting better. Art is getting a lot better. Unfortunately he had three interceptions in the game on Saturday. One of them, it was a forced throw. Two of them, he'd probably like to have back. Threw behind the tight end on the opening play that allowed the ball to get picked off and then he made a poor decision on a second one.

But he did a lot of really good things in that game, threw I think for 250-some yards which is his best outing of the season. He'll continue to improve as we go. Our young receivers continue to improve. The production at the wide receiver position continues to improve and increase.

Again, it's not perfect. There were too many drops. We had one drop near the end of the game that probably would have walked in for a touchdown and we dropped the ball. There were other drops that were uncharacteristic by some individuals.

Our tight ends improved. Travis Vokolek had a lot of production on Saturday. He blocked the best that he's blocked all year. He was productive in the pass game. Those are things we thought Travis would be able to do earlier in the year and it's unfortunate it hasn't happened but we saw signs Saturday of what Travis can become.

Daevon Robinson continues to shine or show up, I should say, in the pass game as a young tight end. Still has to learn how to block but he's gotten a lot of reps in the first part of the season and will continue to do so as we move forward. Disappointing part of the offense right now is we just need to get more consistent on our offensive line.

We're not getting the consistent protection and consistent holes in the run game that we need to be able to be balanced and move the ball consistently like we want, but there are a lot of positives to build on and we'll continue to do so.

Special teams I think continues to be solid for us, even in Justin's absence, we missed a field goal the other day but our kickoff coverage team continues to be strong. Our punt coverage, our punter continues to do an outstanding job. We're close on some kickoff returns.

Avery Young has really started to become a steady punt returner for us. So I'm really pleased about where we're at with our special teams and the continued improvement that we have there. Two weeks in a row, we've improved our net punt and we need to continue that trend, and a lot of it has to do with Adam's confidence as he continues to improve.

This week, we've got a Maryland team that's a much improved team. Matt Canada has done a really nice job holding that team together and getting to this point. It's a completely different style of offense than Maryland has had in the past or what we've faced. It's a run-first offense. That's what they do. That's what Matt likes to do with a lot of different shifts and motions that challenge you. They have very good skill players and they are playing better on defense than they have in previous years, and I think their special teams, especially in the return game, they have got some real threats that can change the game in that phase.

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

Q. What are some of the things that you need to see in the second half of the season that kind of give you some hope; that Rutgers fans should be able to hang their hat on and see if there's hope on this rebuild, as you say?
HEAD COACH CHRIS ASH: I think there's a lot of hope because there's a lot of young players playing that are getting better. We need to continue to try to improve on offense, taking care of the football. We need to improve up front on the offensive line. I think the skilled positions are showing a lot of promise. We need to improve on the offensive line.

Defensively, we need to improve our discipline and we need to improve our fundamentals, those two things. Those two things have prevented us from playing good enough defense to win some games. Special teams, again, we have a lot of young players. It's a phase that we have really improved on in my opinion and will continue to do so.

At the end of the day you want to win some games and be competitive in as many as you can.

Q. Just given the proximity that Rutgers and Maryland have to each other, it seems like both fan bases feel like this should be a rivalry. What are the elements that make a good rivalry and I ask you, having experienced Ohio State/Michigan and being at Wisconsin, things like that.
HEAD COACH CHRIS ASH: A lot of it's just history. Long years of recruiting battles and competitive games on the field.

That's really what it is. Both Rutgers and Maryland are obviously close in proximity but relatively new to playing each other and being in the Big Ten.

Again, rivalries are great. Our focus is just on ourselves.

Q. You mentioned the offensive line needs to get better. What kind of changes do you have to make to get that improvement? Do you play younger guys? Is it schematics?
HEAD COACH CHRIS ASH: The natural reaction for a lot of people is when things are aren't going well, you change. Change isn't necessarily always the answer. It's doing what you do, better and it's continually working to try to get that done and to improve players, it takes a lot.

We talk all the time about what it takes to improve players. One, it takes great coaching. It takes a player that accepts coaching. A player that loves the game of football. Takes a lot of reps and takes a lot of time, and those are the things that we need to continue to invest into our offensive line so we improve in that area.

But we're not going to change the personnel. We don't have a lot of guys that are healthy to change. We're going to play the guys and have played the guys that we think give us the best opportunity to be successful to begin with. You know, one of the things we can do is continue to look at ways to move the football doing things that allow the offensive line to have success. That's one of the things that we can do as coaches, aside from just continuing to work on the fundamental part of it.

Q. You mentioned Matt's offense, a lot of motion shifts. I think they lead the Big Ten in runs of over 20-plus yards. Given what happened at Illinois early in the season, how big of a concern is that for your defense?
HEAD COACH CHRIS ASH: I'm not concerned about what Maryland does.

Again, when you look at the runs, like I just told you, there for four of them in the game. Two of them, we would have had them stopped behind the line of scrimmage if we would have tackled better.

We had a long run that broke out early in the first quarter, running wide zone to the boundary. We were slanting into the boundary at cut back. We had two defenders that over-pursued the ball when it cut back; it got out the gate.

Another one, quarterback scrambled for 41 yards. We had a corner blitz on -- had a corner hit the quarterback. Didn't make the tackle. Could have been a potential eight-yard loss and he got away. We can't do those things and play good defense.

The third one it was a long one, nose guard jumped out of a gap. You have to have a soul slid wall. You have to have gap integrity. Guys have to be in the right spots. He jumped out of a gap. That's a discipline thing. That's a guy that's pressing too much to make a play. We can't do those things.

I'm not concerned about the plays that Maryland has. Everybody that they played, I'm sure those 20 runs, there were different issues that people had that caused them. I'm worried about us and our improvement and what we have to do to prevent some of the things that have happened in the last week.

Q. Jerome Washington, is that long term?
HEAD COACH CHRIS ASH: No, he's week-to-week.

Q. Johnathan Lewis, you continue to expect to play at tight end and what were your impressions?
HEAD COACH CHRIS ASH: We put him in there last week. Tried to throw a lot at him. He handled some of them well. Some of it was probably too much. But you know, we'll make decisions on if that's the best interest for our football team and for Johnathan moving forward.

He did a great job in practice with that role and that opportunity. He wants to help our football team. I think, you know, if he wanted to do it and really embrace it, he has an opportunity to be an outstanding tight end down the road. There's a lot that goes into being a tight end.

Tight end is not an easy position to play, especially in our style of offense when you talk about motions and shifts and run game and pass game. He had a very limited package that he tried to learn. He went out, didn't necessarily have any production but it was a learning opportunity for him. We'll see where it goes from there.

Q. D.C. Jefferson was before your time in 2009, he did the same type of switch with a redshirt freshman. Do you see that type of potential?
HEAD COACH CHRIS ASH: It's too early -- I love Johnathan, I think I've said that before. I absolutely love the kid. He's got great size and good athletic ability. He's a worker. He's a great teammate, and he wants to do anything he can to help the football team.

He works really hard. So if it's a role and a position that he embraces, who knows where it could go, because he does have good size and athletic ability and he's a tough guy. He has good hands, too. I was really surprised at how well he caught the football.

Q. You mentioned after the game on Saturday, the competition, when you're talking about the 16 -- could you expand on that? Do you mean that maybe guys aren't feeling a push from behind or you need to foster more competition during the week in practice?
HEAD COACH CHRIS ASH: No. I mean, when your roster is where it's at from a depth standpoint, we don't have a solid two-deep at each position where you could say, you know what, if the one doesn't perform, if the one doesn't execute, if he doesn't put forth the effort, that we could replace him with a two that's going to be able to go out and win Big Ten games. That's where we're at today.

So when you don't have that competition within a unit for playing time, you have to really be a self-motivated individual to go out and do everything that you need to do to push yourself to be the best that you can be. And we have some of those and we have some guys that probably wish they had a little bit more to be honest with you.

But that competition on a football team, for playing time, if you really love the game, it fixes a lot of problems because you're going to focus more, you're going to prepare better. You're going to play harder. You're going to make sure that you execute your job to the best of your ability and unfortunately, we're not at that position right now.

Q. Do you think that's holding you guys back, though?
HEAD COACH CHRIS ASH: What's holding us back is being able to consistently execute our job on game day. And I was asked, how do you get that fixed, okay. Well, you keep coaching it and you keep trying to work with the individual that has a problem or the unit that has the problem, but in my career, one of the ways that I do know fixes some of those things is competition for playing time.

And if you don't have it, sometimes some guys can slide a little bit because they don't have the intrinsic motivation or the self-discipline to push themselves. Doesn't mean a guy's a bad guy. We have a bunch of really good individuals in this program, really good young men. But they may not be self-motivated to continue to push themselves because they know there's no one sitting behind them. That's just a reality of the situation.

That's not unique to this football team. Do you know how many football teams have that type of depth and competition at every spot? Very few. Very few. We don't have it in enough spots right now.

Q. You talked about Tre Avery before the season. How much have his injury issues impacted play in the secondary?
HEAD COACH CHRIS ASH: I think that Isaiah Wharton and Avery Young have done a really good job. I'm really excited about what I've seen out of Avery and the improvement that he has made as a true freshman from the Ohio State game to where he's at today. He has made a ton of improvement. He's a competitive dude. He really cares. He works really hard.

Do I wish we had Tre Avery? Absolutely, because I think Tre Avery is a special talent. When you talk about competition and you talk about being able to rotate guys and keeping them fresh, Tre would provide that for our secondary. He is a corner. I think our corners have played pretty good. They haven't been great all the time but they have played pretty good football. Saturday against Illinois our corners played a good game. Avery played a pretty good game.

But I would love to have Tre back out there. He's not healthy enough to do it. We've tried to put him in there in certain situations and he's just not ready. He's not confident enough to go do it yet. That has hurt us because again, of the competition, and the inability to rotate guys and it hurts us on special teams because he was all over special teams. He's the fastest kid we have on our football team, and when you lose a guy like that, that hurts.

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