One could argue that Chris Ash, not Tom Herman, was the most important hire that Urban Meyer has made at Ohio State.
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 was highlighted by Broncos star Bradley Roby — 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 relative unknown, but 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 Ohio State fans were 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. His defense slowed down the Crimson Tide and completely limited Marcus Mariota and the 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 underwhelming offense as many times as it did in 2015.
Make no doubt about it, when Ash left after the 2015 season and accepted the Rutgers’ head job, Meyer made an excellent hire with Greg Schiano. But the Buckeyes would not be where they are now if Ash didn’t change the scheme, the philosophy and the mindset of Meyer’s defense in 2014.
Flash forward to 2017.
Although Rutgers doesn’t have the talent to compete with the Buckeyes, Ash is the X-Factor. He practiced against J.T. Barrett for two seasons and knows him better than just about anyone. Ash knows his strengths, his weaknesses and what makes him uncomfortable. His defense is built to stop the zone read by applying pressure and he relies on a tight Cover 4 to limit the passing game.
Twitter was was going crazy during Ohio State’s screen-fest against Army, asking if those passes would work against better teams. Well, Ash’s defense is going to mostly play tight coverage on the line of scrimmage which will limit the number of screens, but Kevin Wilson should be able to mix up formations which will force Ash to change up coverages.
During Week 1, Rutgers held their own against a very talented and well-coached Washington Huskies spread offense. When the Huskies went Trips, the defense obviously has to adjust, which then gives the offense a numbers advantage on the perimeter. Kevin Wilson will be able to dial up run-pass options out of Trips.
We know by now that Wilson loves to utilize the speed and quickness on the perimeter. The receivers aren’t the most complex or precise route runners, so he likes the quick hitters that utilizes their quickness to create space — “legal” picks also help. As shown below, the linebackers can be manipulated by crossing patterns.
Overall, it will be a chess match between Urban Meyer’s newest hire and his most important hire. Ash will throw the kitchen sink at Barrett and Meyer’s spread offense by pressuring the zone read and playing physical against the receivers who still haven’t proved anything against a solid defense. Rutgers may not be there talent-wise, but they’ll be competitive from a schematic standpoint.
Let’s see if Barrett can continue to take baby steps forward with the Penn State game on the horizon.