Ash's Plan To Revamp OSU D? Keep It Simple

In four days, spring football begins, and one of the major focuses will be fixing a pass defense that was among the worst in the country. New assistant coach Chris Ash was brought in to head up those efforts, and the philosophy he's bringing has had great results in his previous stops.

This is Part III in a three-part series on what went wrong for the Ohio State defense in 2013 and what is being done to fix it as spring football begins for the Buckeyes. Part I and Part II are available as well.

Chris Ash isn't being billed quite as a savior – and quite frankly, programs that are 24-2 over the past two seasons don't need one anyway – but his record does speak for itself when it comes to shoring up pass defenses that are in major need of some work.

And Ohio State certainly fits that description after finishing 110th in the nation last season in passing yards allowed, an average of 268.0 yards per game that went up to 377.7 in season-ending games vs. Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson.

So Ash, OSU's new co-defensive coordinator, safeties coach and appointed passing defense czar, will be tasked with making improvements, something he's very much used to in his career. Last year at Arkansas, his Razorbacks went from 113th in the nation to 72nd in passing defense, and from 2009 to '11 at Wisconsin, he helped leap the Badgers from 55th to fourth in yards allowed through the air.

LINK: Ash Succeeded With Less At Previous Stops
LINK: Chris Ash: Defensive Philosophy

The ability to engineer such improvement is one reason why Ash was targeted by head coach Urban Meyer when he went looking for a replacement for Everett Withers, and the stated goal of Meyer is that the Buckeyes put together a championship-level defense that has been lacking the past two seasons.

That focus on the stop troops is exactly why Ash was enticed by the opportunity to head to Ohio State in the first place.

"You look at Coach Meyer's plan and one of the signs up there is his plan to win," Ash said. "Play great defense, that's No. 1. You have to be able to play great defense to win it all. You don't have to be the best defense in the country, but you've got to be pretty darn solid to be able to say you're going to win 14 games, which is what it would take in this league to win it all. You can't have an average to sub-par defense and get that done."

So what kind of defense can Buckeye fans expect from Ash when he takes over? Aggressive would be a good place to start, especially considering the "Aggressive 4-3" series of instructional videos that Ash has taken part in.

And to reach that kind of attacking mentality, Ash wants to install a system that allows the four- and five-star athletes in the back end of the Buckeye secondary to play without having to make a lot of decisions.

"You play fast, you play with reckless abandon, you're physical, you throw your body around, you play without hesitation, there's no confusion, you know exactly what you're doing, you can react to your key and there's only one speed, and it's full speed," he said. "That's the way we've got to play."

Ohio State also found itself dogged by the big play in 2013 as well, as teams hit seven passing plays of 60 yards or more vs. the Buckeyes, tied for 122nd in the nation according to In addition, nine opposing receivers caught 100 yards worth of passes vs. the OSU secondary.

To rectify game-changing mistakes such as that, the former Arkansas and Wisconsin coach has a simple philosophy.

"Being in the right spots, to be honest with you," he said. "A lot of it comes through your weekly preparation. You've got to have a package that everyone believes in, everyone understands, you know the strengths and weaknesses. You do a good job of preparation and work through the plays that you're going to defend each week and you get to game day and you've got to do it, you've got to execute.

"But to me, I always talk about the best defenses are the ones that are hard to beat. Why are you hard to beat? Because you're in the right spot. You're doing the right thing over and over again. You don't beat yourself. If you don't beat yourself, you're giving yourself a chance to win every week."

And winning every week is pretty much what is expected at Ohio State, which did so to the tune of 24 consecutive victories, a school record, before the losses to the Spartans and Tigers at the end of the campaign.

Those setbacks seemed to push the issue when it came to the defensive troubles the Buckeyes were having, with Ash brought in to help rectify the situation. He seemed in many ways to be hand-picked by Meyer, who said he would need to a hit a home-run hire when filling Withers' spot in the brain trust.

Ash seemed to fit that bill both schematically and when it comes to the results he's posted.

"When we met first, he discussed his vision for the defense and what he wanted to see when the film was turned on," Ash said. "He wanted us to play extremely fast, extremely hard, without hesitation and confusion. Wanted us to be a physical defense, wanted us to have an identity and philosophy that we stuck with and could see when he turned on the film. What he wanted and the way I've taught and what I've been around matched. I met with Coach Fickell and it was the same thing.

"They just, for whatever reason, have not been very good here. There's been a great tradition of outstanding defenses here at Ohio State, and the last couple of years it just wasn't to the level that they wanted. Coach (Meyer) wanted to make some changes and go in a different direction. Coach Fickell felt like the needed to do that also, and here I am to try to help."

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