Notebook: Loss to Eastern Michigan is wake-up call for Rutgers
In football, the idea of a moral victory is one that most coaches aren't keen to. But for the Rutgers football team, a strong first half against Washington may have given the team a false sense of confidence and led to a lackluster effort against Eastern Michigan that yielded a 16-13 upset loss.
But if you asked head coach Chris Ash, he didn't see that.
"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.
The Scarlet Knights (0-2) looked like they were just off to a slow start in the first half against the Eagles (2-0), before a field goal and touchdown in the third quarter gave them a 13-10 lead and it looked like Rutgers had found its footing against the Mid-American Conference (MAC) team that was 0-38 all-time against the Big Ten.
On Eastern Michigan's first drive after going down by 3 points, it was faced with 3rd-and-15 from its own its own 32-yard line. Senior quarterback Brogan Roback launched a 23-yard pass for a first down and just like that, all of the Knights' momentum was gone.
The Eagles would tie the game with a field goal on that drive, the Rutgers offense would go stagnant and with 10:13 left in the game, Paul Fricano would kick a 24-yard field goal to give Eastern Michigan a 16-13 lead, one it would not let up for the rest of the game.
While Ash doesn't think that his team underestimates the Eagles, graduate transfer wide receiver Damon Mitchell had other things to say.
"As a team, we underestimated them. You get a pat on your back from playing well with a ranked team the week before. ... We just needed to have a better approach," he said.
Mitchell's comments make one thing clear: Rutgers became complacent after playing one good half against Washington.
If Saturday's loss offers anything to the Knights, it is a wake-up call that they are not as good as they thought.
Just one week ago, Rutgers garnered praise from the national media for showing progress after a 2-10 season. At this point in time, the team is once again a laughing stock in the Big Ten.
And make no mistake, the Knights were out-played by a non-power five team. A team that was 0-58 against power-5 schools was more physical and out-classes Rutgers for 60 minutes.
"We need to play better, win football games and that's on me," Ash said. "I've got to get the football team ready and our coaching staff, we have to get the football team ready to make those plays that are out there."
While Ash's job is not in jeopardy like some fans insist, he is certainly under a lot of pressure. The Knights will play Morgan State, a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team, on Saturday afternoon, but after that, it is all Big Ten games, none of which are guaranteed wins.
Despite Ash taking full responsibility for the loss, he must hope that his players have a different mindset the rest of the season.
Junior safety Saquan Hampton also admitted that Rutgers simply did not come out prepared or with the correct mindset.
"Eastern Michigan came out and played harder than us," Hampton said. "They executed better and came out on top. Hat's off to them."
Regardless of what happens for the rest of the season, fans will have a sour taste in their mouths from this game.
But inside the program, players like senior captain right guard Dorian Miller are putting this game in the rearview — sans film review — and relishing the opportunity to get a new chance next week.
"You just have to learn from the film and come back to work tomorrow," Miller said. "I know the guys will be ready to do that. That's the beautiful thing about sports. You get a chance to do it again. You get another game, you get another practice, you get another rep. I think guys have played long enough to understand that."
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