September 23, 2019 | 90° F

Notebook: Nebraska loss shows Chris Ash is still lacking as head coach

Photo by Jeffrey Gomez |

To put things lightly, Chris Ash has not had a very strong start to the 2017 season. 

With the exception of the game against Morgan State, he has made critical errors as a head coach that show that the second-year man still has a lot to learn.

The Scarlet Knights just dropped their first conference game of the season to Nebraska by a score of 27-17, with poor coaching being at the forefront of the reasons for the defeat.

Ash has notably been very suspect with his handling of true freshman quarterback Johnathan Lewis. He rightfully kept him out against the Huskies, but only game him two isolated snaps in an upset loss to Eastern Michigan a week later.

Lewis set a Rutgers quarterback record with 4 rushing touchdowns against Morgan State and threw for another, but only saw one snap against Nebraska. That snap came on a 2nd-and-7 in the second half, when Lewis ran the ball for 2 yards. He then came out of the game to make way for starter Kyle Bolin. Lewis proved he was a great redzone threat last week, so it didn't make much sense to have him take a snap in the middle of the field. Ash said that the plan to play Lewis is based on the flow of the game and varies every game.

"The game plan with Johnathan Lewis is the same each week," Ash said. "It's all based on the situation. (Nebraska was) doing an outstanding job of stopping the run. It was turning into more of a throw game for us. Right now, Kyle (Bolin) gives us the best shot throwing the ball."

Bolin did not have great numbers on Saturday, but marched the offense down the field on the first drive of the game and either should have stayed in for the entire game, or if Lewis were to come in, it should have been for an entire drive to get a flow with the offense.

"We've just got to watch film and take notes and figure out what we need to do in terms of just to run the plays effectively," Bolin said.

But the questionable decisions also extend to clock and field position management.

In the season opener against a ranked Washington team, he made a questionable decision to punt the ball on 4th-and-1 at the Husky 44-yard line down 10-7 in the third quarter. That led to a Washington scoring drive and the end of an upset bid. 

On Saturday against the Huskers, down 27-17 with under 6 minutes left in the game, he elected to punt the ball on 4th-and-10, effectively ending any chance Rutgers had to win the game. It was a bizarre move, as it seemed like he had given up on trying to score and getting the ball back. 

And when his defense made a stop on the next drive, he did not call a punt block, despite starting punt returner Janarion Grant being out with an injury. Rutgers has the most blocked kicks in the country since 2009 and trying to block that punt made too much sense not to do.

To this point, Ash has done an exceptional job of building a foundation for the football program. The team is light years ahead of where it was a year ago in terms of being competitive and being able to play with better teams. 

Building that foundation is a key step in the rebuilding process, but now that Rutgers has proven it can be competitive with more talented opponents, it is time for the Knights to start winning games. And that starts with the head coach. 

"We just have to help teach our guys how to win games and that starts with me," Ash said. "We have to continue to look at what we do in all situations and who we do it with and find ways to get better."

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GriffinWhitmer and @TargumSports on Twitter.

Griffin Whitmer

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