Rutgers coaches preview No. 8 Washington
With the season opener for the Rutgers football team just days away, the time has come to preview the Scarlet Knights' first opponent, No. 8 Washington.
Washington is coming off of a very successful 2016 season in which the Huskies went 12-2, won the Pac-12 Championship and made the College Football Playoff as the No. 4 team in the nation. Their season would end with a loss to No. 1 Alabama in the National Semifinal.
This will be the second straight season in which Rutgers and Washington play one another in the season opener, with the Huskies rolling to a 48-13 victory a season ago in Seattle.
The Knights enter as over 30.5-point home underdogs, with many people expecting Washington to steamroll them once again.
But Rutgers is a new-look team, with transfers starting at 4 of the offensive skill positions, highlighted by quarterback Kyle Bolin and running back Gus Edwards.
Head coach Chris Ash noted on Sunday that this game wont make or break their season, but will be a good measuring stick for where the team is compared to last season and that is motivation for his team.
"Washington, you know, they are not going to determine the success or failures of our overall season, but to go out there in game one and play them again and measure your football team, the improvement, hopefully that you see, that's a motivating factor for everybody," he said.
The Huskies are once again loaded on offense, despite losing wide reciever John Ross, who wreaked havoc last year with 183 all-purpose yards and 3 touchdowns despite touching the ball just six times.
Their most important returning player is their most important one in star quarterback Jake Browning, who will be a Heisman frontrunner this season.
"He's a sensational player," defensive coordinator Jay Niemann said. "Unbelievably accurate... deceptively fast and very uncanny with regards to sensing where the pressures coming from and being able to step up and out and away from it. (I have a) ton of respect for that guy."
Also back is wide receiver Dante Pettis, who had 15 receiving touchdowns and 2 punt return touchdowns in 2016 as well as running backs Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman, who combined for over 2,000 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns last season.
Niemann praised the entire Washington offensive unit, saying that there is no weak point and that there are tons of weapons for Browning to work with.
As for the Rutgers offense, it will see one of the best defenses in the country right out of the gate. Despite losing guys like Sidney Jones IV, Kevin King, Budda Baker and Elijah Qualls to the NFL, the Huskies return middle linebacker Azeem Victor and have reloaded all over the board, especially on the defensive line.
Offensive coordinator Jerry Kill compared their front four on the defensive line to Ohio State's in 2015, which is regarded as one of the best defensive lines in recent memory in the Big Ten.
Kill is also aware of the challenge he faces in his first game as the play-caller against a stout defense.
"It puts a lot of stress on what we can and can't do," he said. "You can't go 1, 2, 3 and out. The sacks, and the negative yards and the turnovers are the things you got to stay away from, certainly in the first game."
The Knights turned the ball over three times in Seattle last year, but the issues in that game snowballed into a recurring theme for their disastrous season. They had a minus-5 turnover differential and only forced 14 turnovers in 12 games.
Ash is well aware of that weakness, and went into detail about how much the program has done to protect that ball on offense and take it away on defense and special teams.
"We as a staff and as a program are doing more right now on winning the takeaway battle than anywhere I've been in my career, anywhere," he said. "It's been a major, major emphasis... I can tell you we have invested the same amount of time on holding on to the ball and take the ball away than anywhere I've been."