Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Dark Knights: nowhere to go but up for reeling Rutgers

17 SEP 2016: Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Chris Ash prior to the game between the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the New Mexico Lobos played at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway,NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Really, there’s nowhere to go but up if you’re Rutgers.

Ohio State pummeled the Scarlet Knights, 58-0, two weeks ago. Last Saturday, Michigan steamrolled them, 78-0. Washington drubbed them, 48-13, in Week 1.

They’re all Top 5 teams. Still, that’s embarrassing. It can’t be good for confidence.

Rutgers looks to end the nightmare on Saturday when it plays host to Illinois (noon ET, ESPN NEWS). The Illini limp in at 1-4 after a home loss to lowly Purdue.

“We need to put those games in that first half of the season behind us and get ready for the second half of the season. You look at the rest of the season, we’re excited to get the second half started,” first-year coach Chris Ash told reporters in New Jersey this week.

The Scarlet Knights (2-4 overall, 0-3 Big Ten) are underdogs this week to an Illinois team on a four-game losing streak. That tells you there’s a lot of work to do in rebuilding the program.

“Going into the Ohio State game I thought we had a lot of confidence,” Ash said.

“Obviously that got shaken a lot after that game. We saw that the gap is fairly large between us and Ohio State. We saw it was fairly large between us and Michigan. But the player’s attitude has been outstanding. I don’t sense that their belief in what they can be and what we’ll continue to work towards being has changed.”

The second-half schedule eases up for Rutgers. How can it not when it played three Top 5 teams?

The Scarlet Knights face Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State and Maryland after Illinois.

“A lot of the goals our players would like to try to achieve, winning Big Ten games and potential postseason play. Those are all there,” Ash said.

“We’re excited about the second half of the season. Do I wish that the Ohio State and Michigan games would have been more competitive? Absolutely. But does that mean that the season’s over because those two games are like that? No, not at all, and nobody’s going to quit in the room.”

Rutgers has scored seven points in the last three games. It lost,14-7, to Iowa in the Big Ten opener.

Junior quarterback Chris Laviano, more suited for a pro-style offense, has struggled with his transition to the spread. He’s completed just 47.7 percent of his passes.

TCU transfer Zach Allen is waiting in the wings for his chance behind center. It appears he’ll continue to hold the clipboard.

Ash elaborated:

“Laviano’s our starting quarterback. Has been for the first six games. We’ll continuing to through the week of practice and see how the others are developing and continue to improve. We’ve played three different quarterbacks, really four with the one play that Gio had. But we have to continue to try to find consistent play at that position. You know, we’ll continue to do that.”

The coach said the struggles go behind the guy calling out the plays.

“Everything we do starts up front. We have to play better on the offensive line. We’ve struggled to run the football in the last two games. We’ve struggled to protect the quarterback in the last two games. We have to be able to be better on the offensive line to get our offense going. That’s both in the run game and the pass game,” he said.

Things aren’t much better, if at all, on the other side of the ball. They’re allowing 269.7 yards per game on the ground and have yielded 18 rushing touchdowns.

It makes sense that Rutgers looks forward to the season’s second half. It can’t much worse than the first.

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