When watching Rutgers play, it is quickly apparent that former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and new Rutgers’ coach Chris Ash is attempting to turn the Scarlet Knights into Ohio State east -- and rightfully so.
One could argue that Chris Ash — not Tom Herman — was the most important hire that Urban Meyer has made during his time in Columbus. In 2013, the Ohio State defense under Luke Fickell and Everett Withers was not particularly impressive, especially for a team with eight-plus NFL guys listed in the two-deep. They played soft and lackadaisical in the secondary — which included Bradley Roby and Doran Grant at cornerback — and it showed often. They gave up 34 points to a bad California team, 30 points to Northwestern, 24 to Iowa, 35 to Illinois, 41 to a bad Michigan team, 34 to Michigan State and 35 to Clemson. A change needed to be made.
With Everett Withers accepting the head coaching job at James Madison, there was an opening at co-defensive coordinator and in the secondary. Urban Meyer then made the move and poached a great defensive mind off of Brett Bielema’s staff at Arkansas, Chris Ash.
Ash brought an aggressive, attacking style and a Quarters scheme in the secondary — a scheme that Meyer was very familiar with, from Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi. All Ash did was immediately transform the passing defense from 112th in the country against the pass, to 29th. Not to mention bottling the Alabama and Oregon passing game, en-route to the national title. Without Ash, Ohio State does not win the national title in 2014 and the defense wouldn’t have bailed out the sputtering offense as many times as they did in 2015.
Make no doubt about it, when Ash left in the offseason and accepted the Rutgers’ head job, Meyer made an excellent hire with old friend Greg Schiano. But the Buckeyes would not be where they are now if Ash didn’t change the scheme and the philosophy of Meyer’s defense in 2014.
Fast forward to Ash’s hire at Rutgers. Right away, he hired Drew Mehringer, an up-and-coming offensive coordinator who came right out of Tom Herman’s coaching tree. He started as a graduate assistant under Tom Herman’s Iowa State team, followed Herman to Ohio State, then left to become a co-offensive coordinator under Withers at James Madison and then he traveled to Houston to become Herman’s receivers coach.
Meyer had nothing but good things to say about his former GA, "I just saw his relationship with Tom," Meyer said of Mehringer, "and Tom is like a lot of us: You don't trust much to anybody -- and this guy proved himself over and over again. A lot of respect to Drew."
Ash’s offensive coordinator is extremely young, only 29, and he’s going through some growing pains. Mehringer is trying to implement a Herman-like spread offense with a bunch of guys who were recruited to play in Rutgers’ old and slow, pro-style offense. It looked as advertised against lowly Howard and New Mexico — putting up a combined 89 points in those two games. But not so much against Washington and Iowa — putting up only 20 combined points in those two games.
When watching the Rutgers’ offense, the lack of athletes and the lack of strength on the offensive line — that Mehringer has been used to at Ohio State and Houston — definitely sticks out, but the play-calling and scheme is nearly identical.
Just take a look at their opening drive of the season against Washington:
The Rutgers’ offense came out in 11 personnel, with the tight end flexed. They then ran inside zone — a staple of Meyer and Herman’s offense. It was apparent right away that Mehringer was a Herman protege.
It was crazy to see a Rutgers’ offense run with tempo. Once the ball was set by the referee, it took them only five seconds to hike the ball for the ensuing play.
They came out in the same personnel and the same look. They were able to gain 4-yards on another inside zone run.
Once again, when the ball was set by the referee, it took them only five seconds to snap the ball. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights and Mehringer, they were unable to convert on 3rd-&-1, after gaining 9-yards on the first two downs.
They used 11 personnel, but showed a different look — with the tight end on the line of scrimmage and the receivers lined up in bunched trips formation — and tried to set the tone by running the inside zone on back-to-back-to-back plays, but were stuffed.
Ash and Mehringer are used to watching a bullying offensive line and a talented power back to move-the-chains, especially in short yardage situations. But even though they were stuffed on their first possession of the season, it’s clear that Mehringer intended to set the tone of the season by running Meyer’s bread-and-butter, the inside zone.
Right now, Rutgers is not a good football team. They lack the talent to effectively run the offense that they want, but they’re going to take the 2016 season to install a mindset and Mehringer’s scheme and tempo. The offense been proven to be more than effective at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, Ohio State, James Madison and Houston. Once they get their recruits at Rutgers, it will eventually work, but not right now.
Buckeye fans will be watching the (extremely) less-talented version of Tom Herman’s offense on Saturday, but once Ash and Mehringer get the athletes they need, Rutgers should be on the ascension.