Chris Ash went 2-10 in his debut season with the Scarlet Knights, the program’s worst season since going 1-11 in 2002. Rutgers went 0-9 in Big Ten play and was outscored 224-0 in losses to Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State. “It wasn’t fun,” said Ash, a former UW assistant. “Been asked a lot about it. It was awful. But we’ve moved on. It’s behind us and we’re a lot better football team today because of what we went through a year ago.”
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
The return of senior wide receiver Janarion Grant should give the Scarlet Knights a boost on offense and special teams. Rutgers was 2-1 and locked in a scoreless tie with Iowa in the second quarter of Week 4 last season when Grant sustained a season-ending ankle injury during a 76-yard reception. Grant was the team’s co-leader in touchdowns scored (five) despite missing the final 8½ games of the season. A threat to run the ball — he averaged 8.6 yards on 16 carries — Grant also is effective as a slot receiver. But the 5-foot-10, 172-pound speedster is particularly dangerous as a returner. His eight career TDs off returns are tied for the most in NCAA history. The haul included a 69-yard punt return vs. New Mexico and an 84-yard kick return vs. Howard last season.
Jerry Kill returns to the Big Ten as Ash’s offensive coordinator. Kill was Minnesota’s coach until he resigned seven games into the 2015 season — his fifth with the Golden Gophers — due to recurring health issues. Kill takes over for Drew Mehringer, who left Rutgers to join Tom Herman’s staff at Texas. “He’s brought leadership,” Ash said of Kill, who returns to the sidelines after spending time as an assistant athletic director at Kansas State. “He’s brought confidence. He’s brought a head coach’s view to the offensive side of the ball. His flexibility in terms of using our personnel and devising a scheme and system that fits what we have right now and what we can recruit every single year is really what he’s brought to the table.”
Can Kill inject some life into Rutgers’ offense?
Of the 128 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Scarlet Knights finished the 2016 season last in total offense, 127th in passing efficiency and scoring offense, 123rd in third-down percentage and 122nd in passing yards per game. Grant’s return should help, as should the addition of H-back Jerome Washington, one of nine transfers on Rutgers’ roster.
1,659 Passing yards for Rutgers last season, the program’s lowest total since 2001 (1,508).