Rutgers' offensive struggles must improve if team wants to avoid embarrassment against Michigan
Rutgers football head coach Chris Ash will have no problem pointing out that the only statistic he cares about is a win versus a loss.
But at the same time, the second-year head man will not be shy to point out his team's struggles on the offensive side of the ball.
Last Saturday against Purdue, the offense put up just 14 points and only gained 217 total yards compared to the Boilermakers' 474. Despite this, Purdue put up just 12 points of its own, and the Scarlet Knights came away with the victory.
"Offensively, the stats (against Purdue) aren't what any of us would like, but at the end of the day, our job on offense is to score more points than the opponents, and we did that," Ash said. "As long as we're able to do that, then that was a success."
Junior quarterback Giovanni Rescigno threw for only 87 yards but threw a touchdown to running back Raheem Blackshear that wound up being the difference in the game and did not turn the ball over once.
The game before that, in his first start of the season, he threw for 89 yards and no scores on just 10 attempts. But he did not throw an interception and his team came out on top.
But the fact remains that two straight games with under 100 passing yards is a very low output, especially when both were against teams that nobody would consider juggernauts.
"We gotta coach (the passing game) better," said offensive coordinator Jerry Kill. "I gotta do a better job. I'm never gonna blame kids, we gotta do a better job."
Kill doubled down on those comments, noting that in order to be a complete offense, the passing game needs to step things up.
Things will not get easier, as the team visits Michigan this Saturday, who boasts one of the best defenses in the Big Ten and is a team that Rutgers was able to throw for only five yards against. That is right, five yards. Then-starter Chris Laviano was 1-8 for 6 yards while backup Zach Allen was 1-10 for -1 yard.
"There's no question we gotta get better at it to be more successful in what we're trying to do," Kill said. "We gotta get better and more consistent in what we're doing. And that's passing and running the ball."
Ash took this job as a lifelong defensive coach. He entrusts this season's offense with Kill, a guy who has had great success for many years as a head coach, with offense mainly being the strengths of his teams.
There is not a concrete answer as to why Kill has not had much success so far, but it likely boils down to the talent he has to work with. The team has put out as many as three true freshmen wide receivers on the field and Janarion Grant remains the only legitimate playmaker on the team and has been banged up for the last few weeks.
Junior left tackle Tariq Cole is at the forefront of the offense's successes and failures and did not take the time earlier in the week to reflect positively on the team's win against Purdue.
"We need to get better still. Our offense didn't really play up to what we usually have or what we usually like," Cole said. "I think we could run the ball a lot better than we actually did, and the passing game wasn't really there too much versus Purdue."
Against the Wolverines on Saturday, nothing will come easy. Despite being two completely different looking teams than those that took the field when Michigan beat the Knights 78-0 in Piscataway a year ago, the Wolverine defense remains a strength, while the Rutgers offense remains a weakness.
Ash is aware of this, but there is no short-term fix for some of the issues that side of the ball has. He cannot pluck a Saquon Barkley-type running back or a J.T. Barrett-like quarterback out of thin air. He is limited to his blend of extreme youth with a little bit of experience sprinkled in.
And with his team riding a two-game conference winning streak for the first time in the program, the pressure is as high as ever.
"We want to execute better. We need to run the ball better. We need to protect the quarterback better, we need to create space at the wide receiver position better," Ash said. "We need to throw the ball better. We've got to do all those things better."