Rutgers anxiously awaits spring game
One month and 15 practices after beginning its collective preseason preparations, the Rutgers football team will display what it’s learned.
The Scarlet Knights will debut the spread offense first-year head coach Chris Ash and his staff have been implementing over the past 29 days at High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday night in their final meeting of the spring with the spring game.
In addition to the thousands of Rutgers fans expected to come out to Piscataway, the contest will also be aired nationally on the Big Ten Network once it kicks off at 7 p.m.
Just as the fans are excited to see the work the players have put in over the past four weeks culminate in their new look offense, the players are anxious to demonstrate what they’ve learned under the bright lights at High Point.
While the game is essentially a glorified scrimmage, the Knights are taking it seriously as they expect a game-like environment similar to what they anticipate to see in the fall.
“Our players are anxiously awaiting the spring game. We’re hoping that the fans will show up and support this football team,” Ash said. “I think it’s really important that our football team, the Athletic Department, the student body and our fans work together to help us create a great environment not only for our team but for the recruits and people to be a part of our program.”
The roster will be split into two teams — the red team and the white team. Red will include a combination of first and third team players, while the white team will feature the second and fourth teams.
The white team will be spotted an undetermined amount of points to begin the contest in order to add incentive to the red team to create a competitive environment, Ash said.
A year later, with a different coaching staff, the biggest question entering the spring game is remains who will be starting behind center. Ash said all three quarterbacks vying for the starting spot — juniors Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig and sophomore Giovanni Rescigno — will take reps with the red team on Saturday.
He stood by his assessment of the competition being even in his press conference Tuesday, and said the competition will drag out into training camp in August.
“It’s not something that’s going to be settled here at the end of spring. Nobody has been playing consistently enough to say they would be deserving the right to be named the starting quarterback here at Rutgers,” Ash said. “I really like their work ethic, I like where they’re at in terms of a competition standpoint. They show up every single day to compete, they’re learning the offense, they’re running the offense a lot better than probably any of us thought they would be at this point, but it’s still not good enough.”
Although there won’t be many, if any, final decisions on the depth chart being made following the spring game, the coaching staff will be able to make further assessments of the roster in seeing how the players react to playing in front of a crowd for the first time since November.
The final score won’t be remembered, but after playing in the confines of the Rutgers Indoor Practicing and Conditioning Facility or the F3 Practice Field for the past month, the plays made on the field Saturday will be watched under a close eye by Ash and his staff.
“Quite a bit, to be honest with you,” Ash said on how much weight he’ll put on the performances Saturday. “We’re not going to run our full package of offense and defense, but it’s going to be the first time a lot of these players have gone in that stadium and played. … We gotta see how they’ll respond ... in front of a crowd at the stadium when the lights are on Saturday night and see how they handle it. It’ll be a little bit different type of evaluation, but you talk about our culture, competitive spirit and competitive excellence and we want to see who’s ready to make plays on Saturday night.”
While current Knights will demonstrate their worth inside the four white lines, potential Knights will be witnessing on the sidelines, taking in the atmosphere created by the fans in the stands and the product created by the coaching staff on the field.
More than 100 prospects will be attending the contest on Saturday, according to 24/7 Sports.
With guests at its home stadium, the coaching staff is expecting a vibrant environment from those in attendance.
“The atmosphere that is created at the spring game is really important not only for our players but for recruiting,” Ash said. “We’ll have a number of top recruits here from in-state and this region … anytime they show up, there’s a tremendous fan support and great environment they could get excited about.”
Most coaches allow their assistants to take over their program’s spring game and coach the team, but not Ash. The energetic coach is expected to be in the midst of the action Saturday, where he will make sure things look and feel the way he hopes they will five months down the line.
“I’m coaching every day I’m out there. Whether it’s spring game or a walk-through or a practice, I’m going to go out there and coach,” Ash said. “It’s not my nature to be hands-off and let everyone else coach. I want it done a certain way ... I’ll stand behind the offense out on the field and be able to help manage the game the way that I want it to be managed, but I’m looking for certain things, and if there is an opportunity to coach on offense or defense, or we’ll do some punts with our punt team, I’ll do it.”