Unknowns surrounding Rutgers may play advantage against Washington
The wait is finally over.
After eight months of a grueling offseason of growth and anticipation, the day everyone has been anxiously awaiting is finally here.
It’s the first gameday of the Chris Ash era for the Rutgers football team.
The Scarlet Knights take the field at Husky Stadium in Seattle Saturday hoping to upset a Top 25 opponent in No. 14 Washington.
A tall task at quick glance — the win would easily crack anyone’s list of top five wins in program history — a closer inspection reveals that while all signs point towards a blowout win for the Huskies, there is potential for the Knights.
They enter the 2016 season coming off a 4-8 season with a multitude of off-field issues that included both a head coach and an athletic director that were fired at the end of the campaign.
But with the loss came Ash, a young, energetic defensive coordinator from Ohio State eager to fulfill his goal of becoming a head coach.
He brought along a vision of bringing a modern no-huddle, spread offense to a team that’s been playing in the pro-style for most of the past couple of decades and a coaching staff that’s worked diligently to implement it.
Completely rehauling the way a program operates is never easy and has raised questions of how well Rutgers will adapt, especially so right out of the gate against Washington. No one knows quite what to expect out of the Knights offense.
Even the opposition will be learning new things as the game goes on.
“There’s always uncertainties with the first game for sure, because everybody’s going to be a little different,” said Washington head coach Chris Peterson in his press conference previewing this Saturday’s matchup. “Had a long offseason to work on some things, but then you couple that with a brand-new staff across the board … you’re watching tapes of where they came from, but then they are going to have their own ideas that are tailored to their personnel. So that’s probably the biggest challenge is, a team like this we wish we didn’t have right out of the gate, had a little bit of tape … So that’s probably the biggest thing.”
Ash has been through similar situations throughout his coaching career and understands the struggle Peterson is going through, but that didn’t make him feel any sympathy for the Huskies head coach.
In fact, he’s made sure to give opponents as little material to study as possible.
“I've been on the other side of it like Washington is now, playing against new staffs and their first game. And you're trying to scramble to find videotape on this coordinator, that coordinator, the head coach on where they've come from and trying to figure out what they'll be doing,” Ash said. “You guys, I know made a lot about us eliminating the media access to practice, but there was a reason for that, and just like what you brought up, that's one of them. We don't need everything that we're doing broadcast all over the internet. So we hope it is somewhat of an advantage for us that we're new and we have no video out there of what we're doing.”
The Washington coaching staff will have to work with what they could get their hands on, looking at how teams where the coaching staff worked at prior operated, as Peterson mentioned.
Considering the amount of stops each coach has made, those film sessions were likely not short. Couple that with the need to study Rutgers’ personnel to develop a feel of what they could do and it could lead to a slight advantage.
“With each offense, it’s different, there’s always a different wrinkle because you have a specific skillset with each offense,” said fifth-year senior center Derrick Nelson, one of four captains chosen by his peers last week. “Let's say you have different receivers, so you wanna do something different like have short passing game or you have a great o-line, so you wanna have a good run game and you wanna have that tempo going. Or say you have an athletic quarterback so you wanna run a wildcat, so you never know what’s going to happen. So I think that could work to our advantage.”
The element of surprise will be on Rutgers’ side come Saturday, but even then, the balance is tipped heavily in Washington’s favor.
The Huskies may finally break the current 16-year drought without a conference championship, finally earning its first Pac-12 title since it expanded in 2011.
Rutgers is beginning the journey to transforming itself from a Big Ten bottom-dweller to a contender in one of the best conferences in the sport.
That doesn’t bother the Knights head coach one bit.
“I’m sure that right now, nobody expects much out of us,” Ash said. “and I’m perfectly content with that.”