Across The Field: Q&A with Rutgers Beat Writer James Kratch As Scarlet Knights Prepare to Host Ohio State

By Dan Hope on November 14, 2019 at 8:35 am
Nunzio Campanile and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Before each week's Ohio State game, Eleven Warriors catches up with a media member who covers the opposing team to get his or her perspective on the Buckeyes' upcoming opponent.

This week, we're joined by James Kratch, who covers Rutgers for

With Ohio State favored to win Saturday's game at Rutgers by more than 50 points, there's no pretending that this week's game will be competitive, so most of our questions to Kratch about what already went wrong this season and what the future of Scarlet Knights football will look like.

2-7 (0-6 BIG TEN)

3:30 P.M. – SATURDAY, NOV. 16


Why was Chris Ash, who coordinated a defense at Ohio State that won a national championship, unable to achieve any success as Rutgers' head coach before he was fired in September? If fellow former Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano is indeed the choice to succeed Ash, why does Rutgers believe he is the right man for the job? And considering that Rutgers has been one of the worst teams in the Big Ten since it joined the conference, what should the realistic expectations be for the Scarlet Knights' next head coach?

Kratch answers all of those questions for us, plus how ugly Saturday's game could be and where you should go besides the game if you're making the trip to Piscataway, in this week's edition of Across The Field. 

Q: Rutgers is just 2-7 this year and has lost all six of its Big Ten games by at least 28 points. What’s the mood like around the program right now? Do the Scarlet Knights have anything left to play for, or are they just trying to get this year over with at this point? 

Kratch: The team is still playing hard for interim head coach Nunzio Campanile and has had a remarkably positive spirit throughout everything that has happened during this lost season. There are a lot of young players in the two-deep and they know a new head coach will be breaking down their film soon, so I believe that is a motivating factor for many. Campanile has stressed his main goal is for the team to improve each week and to be in a better spot at the end of the season than it was when he inherited it in late September.

There is also the issue of Rutgers’ 18-game Big Ten losing streak. If they do not win one of these final three games – and things do not look terribly optimistic considering it has Ohio State this week, Michigan State next week and then a trip to Penn State for the finale – they will have the second-longest league losing streak in conference history. I’m sure they are eager to find a way to avoid that.

Q: Chris Ash was a highly regarded defensive coordinator at Ohio State, but he went just 8-32 and was fired in September after less than four seasons at Rutgers. What went wrong? 

Kratch: He did not recruit well enough and he did not build a Big Ten-caliber roster, especially in the trenches. As a result, he did not win enough games and by the end of his tenure – a 52-0 loss at Michigan – all hope had been sucked out of the fanbase. There were no signs of progress and it was clear they were not going to materialize anytime soon.

I also think Ash was hurt by the fact he struggled to connect with Rutgers fans and the New Jersey football community and he never seemed terribly comfortable with being the front-facing leader of the program. Rutgers needs a salesman who generates excitement about the program, even in the absence of victories. That just was not Ash’s forte.

That being said, I think he showed he is a very capable defensive coordinator. It would not shock me if Ash gets another head coaching job later in his career. Probably not in the Big Ten, but I could see him being successful at a Group of 5 program somewhere in the Midwest where he fits in better.

Chris Ash
After a successful tenure as Ohio State's defensive coordinator, Chris Ash did not achieve much success as Rutgers' head coach. Raj Mehta – USA TODAY Sports

Q: Your team at has reported that Greg Schiano is the frontrunner to be Rutgers' next head coach. Schiano didn't exactly leave Ohio State in high regard with the way the Buckeyes' defense struggled last year, so if he is indeed the choice, why is Rutgers confident that he is the right man for the job?

Kratch: The Buckeyes will be coming to Piscataway on Saturday because of Schiano. He gave Rutgers football its dignity and built the program up to the point where it could be considered for Big Ten membership. There is a strong belief among fans and donors that Schiano is the one man who can turn the Scarlet Knights around. He has done it before and if this deal gets done, he will try to do so again with many more resources than he had the first time. Ohio State’s defensive struggles last season have been mentioned around here, of course, but I do not think anyone sees them as a major issue.

Q: Realistically, what do you think the expectations should be for Rutgers football going forward? What must the new coaching staff do well for the Scarlet Knights to have a chance to become competitive in the Big Ten, and how long will that take? 

Schiano: Rutgers’ first goal should be to return to what it was during the second half of Schiano’s tenure – a regular bowl game participant. Rutgers played in bowl games in six of Schiano’s final seven seasons. If the next head coach and his staff can recruit closer to the middle of the Big Ten pack than the bottom and work the transfer portal effectively, I actually think they can get to 6-6 in two or three seasons.

Long-term, I think Rutgers should strive to be like Northwestern. A frequent bowl participant that struggles some seasons but can also push for 10 wins other years.

Q: Ohio State is favored to win Saturday's game by more than 50 points. How ugly do you expect it to be? 

Kratch: As ugly as Ohio State wants it to be. I’ve never encountered such a mismatch on paper. Even if the Buckeyes run a vanilla game plan and go to their second- and third-stringers early, I still think this will be a 50-point spread. Rutgers just needs to try to stay healthy, find a way to score some points and hope that next week’s game against a Michigan State team that may be ready to pack it in can be more competitive.

Q: For Ohio State fans who are making the trip to Piscataway, any restaurants or other attractions you recommend visiting while in the area? 

Kratch: Go to Tavern on George in New Brunswick, which is not too far from the stadium. If you have time, it’s an easy direct train ride to Manhattan from New Brunswick as well. You can also stand on the grounds where the first college football game was played on the College Ave. campus; there is now a sign to mark it after last week’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

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