"I've spent some time going back through tape, taking notes and reflecting on this past year, things we did well, things we can do better in all areas because I'm just trying to learn, make myself better, and see if I can add value to all areas of the program," Ash, Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, said on National Signing Day. "That's why i was brought here to do."
To see what improvement would really mean, we thought we would first define just how things changed statistically from 2013 to '14 with Ash and new defensive line coach Larry Johnson joining holdovers Luke Fickell (coordinator, linebackers coach) and Kerry Coombs (cornerbacks, special teams).
In terms of raw numbers, the Buckeyes' defensive output saw an upgrade in more areas than it saw declines, and the overall improvement trumped the areas where they might not have been as effective.
Although the run defense worsened both in terms of yards per game (from 109.4 to 141.3) and yards per play (3.29 to 3.95), the pass defense more than picked up the slack. Ohio State yielded almost 67 yards per game less through the air than last year while also bringing down the opponents' completions percentage (from 62 to 56) and yards per catch (11.3 to 10.9). The net difference was roughly 35 yards per game to the positive as far as yards, though points were barely changed (22.64 to 22.0).
While tackles for loss were up from 6.5 to 7.3, sacks remained the same at 3.0 per game.
In raw totals, the Buckeyes' 110 tackles for loss were fifth most in school history (the 2000 team had 117) and the 45 sacks were third in school history (47 in 1998 and 2000).
Going deeper via Football Outsiders advanced stats, the difference is more stark. The FO figure F/+, a measure of the combination of success play by play and drive by drive, saw the Buckeyes shoot up from 45th nationally in 2013 to No. 2 last season.
In S&P+, a measure that combines success rate and explosiveness, the Buckeyes improved from 42nd overall to No. 2 with bump similar both on standard downs (from 79th to 15th) and passing downs (61st to 12th) and in terms of rush defense (58th to 31st) and pass defense (42nd to No. 7).
Ash admitted joining a program and then helping it win a national championship in year one was "a little surreal."
"It's really been kind of a whirlwind," he said. "It's been a fun year. Anytime you're able to win you enjoy it a lot more. The success we made on defense makes it a little more enjoyable also, but I've really enjoyed my year here. Coach Meyer has been outstanding to me and I've learned a lot from him, how he conducts business as a head coach. I've learned, I've grown, I think I've brought value to the program and it's a great place to be. It's been a fun year."
Ash, who brought with him a new style of play in the secondary, has received much of the credit for the upgrade. The Buckeyes' move to a quarters base defense included some early bumps in the road, but overall it seems to have let the players play more relaxed and play faster. That freed them to make more plays and cut down on mental mistakes.
The Buckeyes also improved fundamentally as far as tackling and maintaining leverage and run fits, all of which helped cut down drastically on big plays allowed. In another Football Outsiders stat -- explosive drives -- Ohio State improved from 86th to 31st. That is a measure of drives that average at least 10 yards per play.
"Is there self satisfaction? I don't know," Ash said. "Am I pleased with what we were able to do here? Absolutely. But I'm never fully satisfied. I'm disappointed we weren't the No. 1-ranked defense in the country. I'm disappointed we weren't in the top 10 in every defensive category. We were good enough to be able to do that, but we didn't get it done. Did we make improvements? Absolutely. Can we continue to get better? yeah, we can and we will.
"I'm happy with where we're at and obviously very pleased with how this season went for us as an overall program but in the same spot I know we can and will get better."
He acknowledged the play of the team in the last three games -- against three of the four best offenses they faced -- was close to the vision he had for the restoration of the Silver Bullets tradition when he accepted Meyer's job offer last winter.
"We were playing the way we wanted to earlier in the season, but we just weren't at that point yet," Ash said. "I think hopefully that is more what you're going to see this Ohio State defense play like in years to come.
'We played fast, we played aggressive, we were I thought well coached. We played with our hands, we got off blocks, we tackled well. We made plays in critical situations. We sacked the quarterback, we got interceptions. Did I say we were perfect? No, we gave up some plays at times, too. All three of those games could have been dominant wins if we hadn't given up a couple of plays in certain situations, but I thought we were playing our best football."