Chris Ash was asked Monday to evaluate his team through two weeks of practice. The Rutgers coach wasn’t grading on a curve.
“I guess it’s measured on wins and losses, and we’re 1-1, so what’s that, probably a C?”, he said.
Ash has been on both sides of the divide through his first two games leading the Scarlet Knights. They got pounded, 48-13, in Week 1 at No. 8 Washington. They throttled Howard, 52-14, Saturday in Piscataway.
Rutgers plays host to New Mexico of the Mountain West Conference this Saturday (noon, BTN) to close out the non-league portion of its schedule. It opens Big Ten play Sept. 24 by hosting No. 13 Iowa.
The Scarlet Knights started slowly against Washington and never got started. They came out of the gate slowly against Howard of the FCS. The Bison led 14-7 after one quarter and the game was tied at halftime.
Despite the similarities in the beginning of each game, Ash does not see a trend.
“We had a slow start this last week without a doubt. When you look back at the Washington game, I wouldn’t call it necessarily a slow start. I think we got hit in the mouth by a pretty good football team who’s in the top 10 right now. I think they’re two different scenarios,” he said.
“Do I think our football team was prepared and ready to go play in both weeks? Yeah, I do. But we did start slow against Howard. Can’t deny that, won’t deny that. We did. We can’t do that against a really good-quality opponent or we’ll put ourselves in a hole that we can’t get out of.
“What we’ve got to do is just got to continue to work and focus on the preparation. There’s all kinds of excuses I could make and give you for why a team would start slow. I’m not into that, and I’m not going to do that. We have to start games better, and that’s bottom line.”
New Mexico also sits at 1-1 after beating South Dakota at home before losing to rival New Mexico State, 32-21, Saturday in Las Cruces. The Lobos, led by former Notre Dame Coach Bob Davie, are averaging 39.5 points per game with their option attack.
“Their option schemes will force us to be extremely disciplined, be tough and force us to tackle well out in space to have a chance to go out and win a football game,” Ash said.
The Rutgers’ offense ranks 11th among Big Ten teams in scoring and total offense. It’s dead last in passing.
Ash was asked Monday if he’s thinking about a quarterback shakeup. He played starter Chris Laviano along with backups Giovanni Rescigno and Tylin Oden against Howard.
Loviano finished 11 of 21 for 137 yards with three touchdowns against an interception. Oden (10 carries for 58 yards) and Rescigno (1 attempt for 42 and a TD) did not throw a pass but added a running dynamic.
Ash said he’s not planning on playing multiple signal callers at this time.
“Chris Laviano is still our starter, but we’re still evaluating that position just like we are several positions on what we’ve got to do to get it better and perform better on Saturdays,” Ash said. “Chris (Laviano) knows that, and we all know that. We’re working diligently every day to try to work on the things that need to be worked on with him, and it’s like any other position, if we keep going and the production isn’t there or we don’t feel like a certain individual gives us the best chance to win, then we’ll look at other options.”
Robert Martin retook his spot as the starting running back after battling injuries in camp. Justin Goodwin opened the game against Washington.
Martin, a junior from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, carried a team-high 16 times for 83 yards against Howard.
“When we look at our list of top potential playmakers on offense, we put Rob Martin in the top group of guys that needs to get the ball, whether it be in the run game or in the throw game, and I’m glad he’s back and he’s healthy and he had a good game,” Ash said.
Janarion Grant showed against Howard that he also makes things happen with the ball. The senior receiver from Florida rushed five times for 105 and two touchdowns, caught two passes for 24 yards, and returned three kicks for 119 yards. He was named the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday.
“He is at the top of the list when you look at the playmakers on our football team, so we have to be able to get him the football as many different ways as we can, whether it’s at wideout, quarterback, running back, in the run game, in the pass game,” Ash said.
“Those conversations have been going on. They started last spring when we first got here after we really identified Janarion as our top playmaker. They’ve been going on all through training camp, and you look in the first two games, how has Janarion gotten the ball. I think you see it a lot of different ways, and that trend will continue.”
Former five-star recruit Darius Hamilton still is working his way back from a knee injury that cost him all but one game last season. The fifth-year senior defensive lineman has just four tackles but is increasing reps as the season advances.
“It’s about how Darius feels, his body is as he goes and his conditioning and how the flow of the game is going. We are a better football team, better defense with him out there, and the more Darius can be out there, the better,” Ash said.
“I don’t think he has any any issues with his knees like he had in the past. We’re excited to see him continue to increase his rep count and be out there to help us as we get moving forward into Big Ten play.”