Yesterday we spoke with an Arkansas insider to try and get a better understanding of why new Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash's defense left much to be desired in his first and only year in Fayetteville.
Today, we go to a larger sample size, where Ash helped steer three Wisconsin D's (two as co-defensive coordinator) to near the top of the Big Ten rankings and three Rose Bowl berths. Ash, who had the same defensive backs coach title and responsibilities he's expected to also have in Columbus, was heralded in coaching circles for both his aggressiveness and his effectiveness as a tactician. But how did Ash's D's fair against the eye test?
In order to get the lowdown on Ash's time in Madison, we spoke with Wisconsin expert Mike Fiammetta of Bucky's 5th Quarter. Mike had the opportunity to see some of Ash's best defensive units, and in this edition of '5 Minutes in the Holy Land', speaks some to what Ohio State fans can expect under their new defensive direction.
How surprised were Wisconsin faithful by Ohio State hiring former Badgers co-DC/DBs coach Chris Ash?
I think most Wisconsin fans were probably caught off guard by the hiring, largely because Ash has fallen off our radar since heading to Arkansas. For a while at the beginning of this last season, many of us were keeping tabs of varying depth on Bret Bielema's happenings in Fayetteville. I suppose that included Ash, but it's not like people were up in arms about him following Bielema to Arkansas. The way Bielema left Wisconsin has always been the central focus, and as that's faded substantially, so has the interest in Ash.
That said, it was interesting hearing Ash's name today. As I'm sure you guys have encountered and discussed on LGHL, people have varying takes on the hire. Yes, Arkansas stunk last year. But at Wisconsin, Ash was always considered one of those "coaching stars on the rise." We knew we wouldn't have him for long, especially once losing Rose Bowls became synonymous with losing assistant coaches (I can't even remember the number at this point, but I'm pretty sure it's north of a dozen assistants that left after those three Rose Bowl seasons).
From you guys' time covering him, are his recruiting abilities better than his small sample size at Arkansas would otherwise lead us to think?
I can't necessarily speak to his work at Arkansas, but he was considered a solid recruiter at Wisconsin. Personally, he's a soft-spoken guy that probably does well in a living room. On the field, though, he's certainly a shouter. A few Badgers defensive backs have reached the NFL in recent years, but they're largely fringe roster guys (Shelton Johnson, Antonio Fenelus, Devin Smith, etc.) Dezmen Southward has an outside shot of being a late-round pick this year.
I have to imagine any negative perception of his recruiting abilities stems from the undeniable difficulty in going from the Midwest (he's from Iowa, went to Drake and coached at Iowa State before coming to Wisconsin) to SEC country. The Hogs' crappy year certainly didn't help matters much, but Ash was always considered a solid recruiter at Wisconsin.
What were the split of responsibilities between he and new Florida Atlantic head coach Charlie Partridge as co-defensive coordinators?
Ash coached the defensive backs and handled most of the play-calling, while Partridge primarily focused on the defensive line.
Obviously defensive backs were a big part of his focus in Madison. What are some of the takeaways from the secondaries during his tenure?
Wisconsin had some solid defenses during Ash's tenure, but much of that was due to the front seven, guys like J.J. Watt and Chris Borland to name just a few. Take into account some crap non-conference scheduling and all that, and you're left with some glaring memories of secondaries letdowns in coverage and huge plays surrendered through the air.
Overall, the Badgers' pass coverage units ranked as high as fourth (2011) and as low as 26th (2010) under Ash, in yards allowed per game. Granted, yardage doesn't tell the full story. The picture isn't as rosy when you look at passing touchdowns allowed, for instance – 63rd, 21st and 38th in 2010-12, respectively.
I think my greatest takeaway from UW's Ash-era defenses was the sense of significant but not overwhelmingly fearful tinge of concern we'd feel when a game against a team with explosive skill players was coming. Go ahead and snicker, Buckeye fans. I suppose that encompasses both recruiting and coaching, but that's the case.
What were the Wisconsin's players' perception of Ash?
Wisconsin players seemed to like him. Like I said prior, he's very soft-spoken to the media, but he's a screamer on the practice field and in games. I imagine if you're a player who handles your business, you'd like him. I don't recall hearing any sort of beef with Ash. Wisconsin's program is also pretty buttoned up in the sense that you're not likely to hear any outward criticism of coaches or teammates, but I think it's safe to say Ash was positively received.
Assuming Ohio State meets Wisconsin in a future B1G title game, how worried would Wisconsin fans be about having to scheme against a Chris Ash defense?
I don't think it would be any different of a feeling than current/recent Wisconsin-Ohio State games elicited. His familiarity with Wisconsin probably has to be thrown out since everything's different under Gary Andersen's and Andy Ludwig's offense. It'd be more of a neat storyline than anything.