Rutgers football improves in Chris Ash’s second season
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — As defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph was having his final pregame meal in Rutgers’ team hotel, the fifth-year senior couldn’t help but look ahead and tell his younger teammates how lucky they are.
While the Scarlet Knights finished the season with a 4-8 record and a three-game losing streak, coach Chris Ash is showing progress in rebuilding a program that was left in disarray by his predecessor, Kyle Flood.
Rutgers won three Big Ten games this year after winning none the year before.
“I know this program is going to be going places,” Joseph said. “So I’m excited to see it.”
However, there is still much that needs to be improved, starting with the offense.
“It all starts up front,” Ash said. “We’ve got to continue to improve up front and it starts with the quarterback, too, that’s the second part of it.”
The offensive line only has to replace captain Dorian Miller, so, once again, the focus will be on the quarterback.
The passing game sputtered as Rutgers played three different quarterbacks in graduate transfer Kyle Bolin, redshirt junior Gio Rescigno and freshman Johnathan Lewis. After averaging 138.3 yards passing yards in 2016, Rutgers dipped to 112 yards this season.
Rescigno, who struggles with throwing, started the final seven games. Lewis, a highly touted recruit from St. Peter’s in Jersey City, New Jersey, showed flashes of talent, including a 42-yard touchdown pass vs. No. 21 Michigan State in the season finale. He also showed his inexperience and admitted he still has a lot to learn when it comes to reading a defense.
Rescigno and Lewis will battle for the starting job in spring practice, along with two highly touted recruits, Artur Sitkowski and Jalen Chatman.
There will at least be some continuity with the play caller, as Jerry Kill is expected to return as the offensive coordinator. That gives Rutgers stability at a coaching position that has been a revolving door for nearly a decade.
Overall, Rutgers has little turnover, with six offensive players and five defensive players graduating.
“It’s going to be a good team. We got a lot of guys coming back. The sky is the limit,” defensive captain Deonte Roberts said. “Just have to go back and get to work.”
For players, it’s winter workouts. For coaches, it’s hitting the recruiting trail. And without a bowl game to prep for, they’ll be out early and often.
“We came here with a vision of what we wanted the program to look like. We came here with a plan to try to reach that,” Ash said. “It wasn’t something that was going to be fixed overnight. I’ve told everybody that. Continue to tell recruits that. But we need to continue to make steady progress, I think from year one to year two, we did do that.”