Rutgers moves on from Washington with valuable experience in hand
The scenes at Husky Stadium Saturday served as deja-vu to those on the Rutgers football team.
The Scarlet Knights (0-1) found themselves on the wrong end of yet another blowout at the hands of a top 25 opponent in No. 14 Washington for their season opener.
But unlike the team that first-year head coach Chris Ash said he saw “quit” on those occasions last season, the Knights put forth a full effort through the end of the 60 minutes, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter — albeit long after the first-string Huskies had been relieved of their duties.
“I’m proud,” said fifth-year senior defensive end Julian Pinnix-Odrick, one of Rutgers’ four captains. “There was some really good efforts out there in terms of when we were faced with that adversity, fighting through and going hard when it’s easy to give up.”
The game marked Ash’s first time working as a conductor of a team rather than as an assistant, but it certainly wasn’t the first time he was given a difficult loss to swallow.
Known for his role on successful teams prior to arriving in Piscataway, he pointed to two difficult losses he went through at powerhouse programs — against Virginia Tech with Ohio State in 2014 and at Oregon State in Wisconsin’s season opener in 2012 — as previous experience in this arena.
While devastating, those losses weren’t the end for those teams — the Badgers reached the Rose Bowl and the Buckeyes won the National Championship in the first-ever edition of the College Football Playoff.
How did those team’s react to those ugly defeats? The same as the exuberant victories.
Ash’s role in those turnarounds was as a co-defensive coordinator, and his approach now that he’s at the helm of his own program remains the same.
“As a head coach, you're doing the same thing. Whenever you go through a win or a loss, you have to go back and evaluate what helped contribute to the victory or what helped contribute to the loss, and that's exactly what we do every week,” he said. “It doesn't matter who we play, where we play or what the outcome (is). We're going to go back and reevaluate the goods and the bads, discuss them as a staff, discuss them with the player and put together our plan for moving forward.”
After reviewing film on the five-hour flight home from the West Coast, the Knights returned to the practice field on Sunday morning to prepare for their home opener at High Point Solutions Stadium against Howard (0-1) this Saturday.
With less than 24 hours having passed, the loss had been put behind them.
“I think guys have responded really well,” Pinnix-Odrick said. “I mean, obviously, we’re tired but ... we have to set an example and let people know that we have to (come) back. And we have 11 guaranteed games left and we gotta go. You know, you really can’t get hung up, whether it's a win or a loss, you can’t get hung up on what happened last week or last play, for that matter.”
As painful as a defeat like the 48-13 drubbing Rutgers received against Washington, it provides experience in a situation the Knights will be seeing plenty of in the immediate future.
With one preseason top 25 team out of the way, they still have another four queued up on their schedule. Having gone through it once, that level of talent will only become more familiar from here.
“I think it definitely prepared us. We could’ve went out there and played a team that’s not as good as us and blown 'em out and that wouldn’t have shown where we actually are,” said junior free safety Kiy Hester. “We played a team that tested us and it wasn’t the outcome we wanted. But it just shows how much we need to improve and what we need to work on for the season because we have a really tough schedule ... even though the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but now we can build off this and learn from it.”