Chris Ash fails team by not preparing for Indiana properly
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — It was the biggest game of the season, and head coach Chris Ash let his team down.
It's easy to blame the offensive line, which surrendered four sacks and failed to establish a running game.
You could blame the secondary for being torched by a part-time starter and picked apart on third down.
You could also blame the passing game, which, for the eighth time out of eight Big Ten games, failed to produce.
But Saturday's embarrassing 41-0 loss to Indiana was a result of the Rutgers football team not being prepared to play a game, and that falls entirely on the shoulders of Ash.
But we should give Ash credit, at the very least, for taking fault for the humiliating loss.
"It's on me. Gotta coach better. Gotta find a way to coach better," he said after the game.
But taking responsibility only does so much. A blowout loss to the last-place team in the Big Ten East is inexcusable and the second such loss this season, in addition to a 16-13 home loss to Eastern Michigan.
In that loss to the Eagles, the Scarlet Knights were coming off of a game against then-No. 8 Washington where they played incredibly well for the first half, before fading away.
Several players, including graduate transfer wide receiver Damon Mitchell, admitted that Rutgers was complacent and underestimated Eastern Michigan, since it received praise for playing well in one half of a loss.
"As a team, we underestimated (the Eagles). You get a pat on your back from playing well with a ranked team (Washington) the week before ... We just needed to have a better approach," he said.
It was very clear that the team was not ready to play in that game, as evidenced by an offense that failed to move the ball in any capacity against an overmatched opponent talent-wise.
And even though Mitchell admitted that the Knights underestimated Eastern Michigan, Ash did not say the same.
"If anybody took these guys for granted, I sure wouldn't have noticed it throughout the week with our preparation," he said after the game.
Of course the head coach knows more about Rutgers than anyone else, but it was clear he did not prepare the team the right way.
The same happened against the Hoosiers, this loss coming with the thought of the team having to win out against Indiana and Michigan State to make a bowl looming.
During the week, players talked about how cool it would be for the seniors to get to play in a bowl game. It was clearly something that was on the team's mind, but Ash was very set on not discussing the matter.
"No, (the loss) had nothing to do with thinking about bowl eligibility. We don't discuss it. We don't want to talk about it," he said.
If players talked about it, but Ash did not, something has to give, as the team has shown up for road games this season — a win at Illinois or playing tough with No. 24 Michigan — but didn't show up against Indiana.
When asked if he thought the team lacked effort, Ash said he didn't think so, but would have to look at the film, and was very candid about the reason for a lack of effort.
"It didn't feel like (we lacked effort)," he said. "If we didn't ... that's on us as coaches. We didn't motivate them right, we didn't prepare them the right way. (If) our guys don't play hard, that's on me and it's on the coaching staff."
While losing to the Hoosiers itself is not an inexcusable act in itself, losing the way that the Knights did is unacceptable for a team that has shown so much promise and growth in Ash's second season.
Sitting at 4-7 and — barring a miracle — out of bowl contention, it is easy to look back on a game like the Eastern Michigan one and realize how much of an effect that has on the team, making what was already a gut-wrenching loss that much worse.
It is easy to see that there are better days ahead for Ash and the Rutgers program and his job is not at risk, but he should have learned his lesson on Sept. 9 when he lost a game arguably more embarrassing than last year's 78-0 drubbing to Michigan.
"We're better than this," Ash said. "We've been better than this. We've played better than this. We've come too far to play a game like this."