The headline around Rutgers’ first Big Ten road game at No. 2 Ohio State centers on Chris Ash’s return to Columbus, but the first-year head coach of the Scarlet Knights doesn’t view it in the same light.
Ash worked under Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer as the defensive coordinator from 2014-15 before he accepted the job at Rutgers (2-2, 0-1). The ties and relationships remain strong, but Ash said he doesn’t see it as an advantage for when his team plays the Buckeyes (3-0, 0-0) on Saturday.
“I don’t see any advantage that my knowledge of anything there has, to be honest with you,” he said. “I mean, at the end of the day, it comes down to players going out, making plays on the field and they’ve got tremendous players (at Ohio State). They’re coaches are exceptionally well they’re playing well through three games.
“We’re trying to improve and build a program here ourselves and yeah, I know players, I know coaches, I know offense and defense schemes that they’re running on film. But that doesn’t mean I have or we have an advantage or anything like that. It comes down to the players making plays on Saturday and that’s all we’re focused on.”
As the co-defensive coordinator for the past two years at Ohio State, Ash contributed to what the Buckeyes defense is now. Ohio State leads the nation in turnover margin of nine, with nine interceptions for four touchdowns and two fumble recoveries.
Ash acknowledged the growth of the young Buckeyes defense and how the unit was able to reload talent.
“Ohio State’s recruited at a high level,” he said. “It’s just really a reload and the next man in. When someone goes to the NFL or their career’s over, there’s another talented player waiting to burst on the scene and become an Ohio State legend and this is no different. The only thing that’s probably a little bit surprising is how well they’re playing so early.”
Meyer had high praise for Ash and his contribution to Ohio State’s growth on defense.
“Chris is the one that brought (rugby tackling) to coach (Luke) Fickell and myself,” Meyer said. “And at first, the both of us were very apprehensive and actually I said, ‘No, we’re going to do what we do.’ And we were a very average tackling team and then we saw the videotape and we did further research, and (Ash) was persistent.”
Meyer also gave Ash credit for Rutgers’ results through four games. Wins and losses aside, Meyer pointed to the effort by Ash’s players.
“They’re his guys now, and I think they’re playing their tails off,” Meyer said. “They were inches away from beating a very good Iowa team, so he’s got that thing going. It’s just going to take a little bit longer … but they’re playing very hard and he’s got a good system in place for his players.”
Up against the No. 2 team in the nation, Ash’s return to Ohio State could be Rutgers’ biggest task all year long.
How ready Ash and his team are will be answered come Saturday, he said.
“I’ll tell you (how ready the team is) when it’s over, to be honest with you,” Ash said. “... I think we were much improved (against Iowa), we were a lot more competitive, we had our chances to win that game but we didn’t get it done. So I’m just worried about our improvement. I’m not trying to compare us to anybody else, especially Ohio State. I’m trying to compare us from the previous week.
“Are we getting better? If that translates to wins, then great, that’s what we want. But we’re just focused on our process of improvement, and each Saturday gives us an opportunity, which we happen to be playing a great opponent this week.”