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Rutgers enters 150th season vs UMass, Ash in critical year 4

By MATT SUGAM

Associated Press

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers didn't book a blockbuster opponent to kick off its 150th college football season.

The program known as "the birthplace of college football" is playing Massachusetts in an effort to get fourth-year coach Chris Ash and the Scarlet Knights started on the right foot after a 1-11 season.

Rutgers' only win came in the season opener against FCS team Texas State.

Ash has a 7-29 record in three years and Rutgers owns the nation's longest losing streak among FBS schools at 11.

While the Scarlet Knights have struggled since moving into the Big Ten Conference in 2014, the Minutemen competed in the FCS until 2012. They've also struggled, going 14-48.

Florida State offensive coordinator Walt Bell was hired after last season, replacing Mark Whipple, who resigned after a 4-8 season. Ash needs a win, with a trip to No. 20 Iowa next weekend and athletic director Pat Hobbs intent on seeing significant progress this year.

John McNulty returns for a second season as Rutgers offensive coordinator. It's the first time the offense has been run by the same person in consecutive seasons since 2010.

The Scarlet Knights ranked 127 out of 129 teams in total offense. Freshman quarterback Art Sitkowski threw 18 interceptions and four touchdowns and 1,158 yards. He's challenged for the starting job by Texas Tech graduate transfer McLane Carter.

The starting QB will need protection from his line and a wide receiver to step up and become the main target.

"Our job right now, honestly, is about scoring points and however we'd have to do that to score points," Ash said. "Part of that is we have to have a more productive pass game. Doesn't mean we need to be able to pass it every down, but we have to be able to get more production."

QB COMPETITION

It's over, but Ash has not said who won.

"There's no competitive advantage for us to do that with the different styles of play that we have at the quarterback position," Ash said. "But we are crystal clear with our team, with our players, on what we are doing, how quarterbacks will be utilized in the game on Friday night."

Randall West will make his college debut for UMass after beating out QBs Andrew Brito and Michael Curtis.

GETTING DRAMATIC

Rutgers theater students will re-enact the first college football game between Rutgers and Princeton before the season opener. The "game" will take place at 6:15 p.m. at the Marco Battaglia Practice Complex.

NEW DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR

While the Scarlet Knights retained their offensive coordinator, there was a shake(equals)up on defense. After three years, Jay Niemann is coaching at Iowa after Ash took over defensive play-calling duties from his former coach and longtime mentor. Andy Buh will coordinate the defense and coach linebackers after spending the last three years as Maryland's defensive coordinator.

STRENGTHS

The Rutgers' running game includes Raheem Blackshear, Isaih Pacheco and freshman Aaron Young, the brother of sophomore cornerback Avery Young. The linebackers are deep with Tyreek Maddox-Williams and Tyshon Fogg and the secondary is solid with Avery Young and Damon Hayes.

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Updated August 29, 2019

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