Want to spark an interesting discussion among Ohio State fans? Pose the following question: who is the most important hire of the Urban Meyer era?
Tom Herman? Ed Warinner? Mickey Marotti?
What about Chris Ash? When Ash was hired away from Arkansas in January 2014 to become Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, the Buckeyes took a major step toward remedying a pass defense that struggled for most of the 2013 season before it morphed into a raging tire fire in Ohio State’s final three games against Michigan, Michigan State, and Clemson.
Ash’s reconfigured defense wasn’t great right away, but the Buckeyes improved as the 2014 season wore on and before reaching an elite level in both their run to the national championship and through the 2015 campaign. Last year, Ohio State was second in the nation in scoring defense, eighth in defensive S&P+, and ninth in total defense.
The Silver Bullets’ quick turnaround helped Ash land his first head coaching gig at Rutgers last December. Saturday, Ash gets his first shot at his former school. His Scarlet Knights are 2-2, and are coming off a 14-7 defeat to Iowa that saw Ash’s team outgain the visiting Hawkeyes.
Kickoff is slated for high noon Saturday in Columbus. And with that, let me hit you with the truth as we dive into the Bye (Bye Bye!) Week edition of Power Rankings!
1. Conquering fears
As I mentioned in the Week 2 rankings, I headed west for the Oklahoma game in a 30-foot, 7-person RV. (Many thanks to our Luke Zimmermann for filling for me last week.) I managed to stave off driving duties for the trip to Norman (via St. Louis), but I finally received my call from the bullpen Sunday afternoon when my group made the 13-hour journey from Norman to Cincinnati in one fell swoop.
The first 15 minutes I spent driving that gaudy monstrosity were terrifying. I struggled to separate my typically-solid driving skills from the the anxiety of possibly crashing an RV. But over the next three hours, I settled down and my nerves calmed. I made sure to triple-check my mirrors prior to changing lanes (the blind spots on RVs are unreal) and braked well in advance of any conceivable traffic stoppage.
But yeah, I hope I never have to drive one of those things ever again.
2. Being the bully on the block
My friends and I really enjoyed ourselves in Norman. The locals were very welcoming — not that they really had any choice; Friday and Saturday in Norman looked like three blocks of High St. in Columbus had been magically transported 800-plus miles to the west — and tailgating with both Ohio State and Oklahoma fans Saturday morning/afternoon was a jolly good time.
As for the actual game, the atmosphere (at least in the first half) in Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium was positively invigorating. There’s no need for me to re-hash what Luke and the other LGHL writers covered extensively in the aftermath of the Buckeyes’ victory, but as I walked out the stadium, I thought to myself, “I don’t think Ohio State wins this game in the second half of the Tressel era.” In the latter five years of his tenure, Tressel’s teams failed to inspire much confidence in ‘big’ games, and the results (2007 & 2008 BCS title games, the USC series, the Fiesta Bowl vs. Texas) I think bear out my line of thinking.
Urban Meyer has flipped that script. I now feel the same level of confidence Mark Titus does heading into every game. No matter the opponent, I know Ohio State has the right talent, the right mentality, and the right coaching to win. It’s a strange yet comforting feeling.
3. Forgot about Wisconsin
“Y’all know me, still the same OG, but I been low-key.”
Yeah, yeah, I know the sudden rise of Wisconsin is NOT college football’s equivalent of Dr. Dre’s beef with Death Row. But it feels like much of the focus on Ohio State’s schedule — even before the Oklahoma game — was centered around the tilts with Michigan State and Michigan to end the season — and for good reason! Both of those teams are very good, and the Big Ten East will almost certainly be decided on those last two weekends in November.
Plus, we all knew the Buckeyes’ tilt in Camp Randall on Oct. 15 was always going to be tough. Ohio State’s last two trips to Wisconsin resulted in an overtime victory in 2012 and 31-18 setback in 2010 as the No. 1 team in the country. Both of those contests took place at night, and the two teams’ mid-October showdown will kick at 8 p.m.
But on Saturday, Paul Chryst’s boys punked Michigan State 30-6 in East Lansing, a victory that came three weeks after the Badgers edged LSU at Lambeau Field. Chryst also appears to have found himself a quarterback — and it’s not even the same guy that started the LSU game. After he relieved fifth-year senior Bart Houston and directed three scoring drives to save Wisconsin’s skin last week against Georgia State, redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook threw for a touchdown and nearly 200 yards in the Badgers’ shellacking of the Spartans.
Against Michigan State, Hornibook received heavy assistance from his defense; Wisconsin intercepted Tyler O’Connor three times, returned a fumble for a touchdown, and shut down the Spartans’ ground game (75 yards on 27 carries). But Hornibook was steady throughout and avoided any back-breaking mistakes. (If Hornibrook keeps this up, we’re on our way to some Matt Leinart comparisons, as Hornibrook is white, tall, left-handed, lacks a strong arm, and appears like a composed dude.) We’ll get to see right away if Hornibrook can repeat his collected performance — the Badgers host Michigan next weekend.
Once again, Wisconsin looks like the team to beat in the Big Ten West.
4. Early bye weeks
Bye weeks in general are lame, but the fact that Ohio State’s open date this fall comes before the calendar hits October will do no favors to a team that is looking at four games against currently-ranked opposition (three on the road) before the season ends.
Bright side: at press time, there’s been no repeat of last year’s bye week blues.
Four games. Four wins. Points scored: 208. Points allowed: 55.
Not bad, Wolverines. Not bad at all. Penn State probably isn’t any good, but Michigan kept the Nittany Lions out of the end zone until garbage time in a 49-10 bulldozing, and Wilton Speight continues to look more than competent at quarterback.
Wisconsin-Michigan should be hella fun.