Is Chris Ash the Missing Piece?

By Kyle Rowland on January 17, 2014 at 9:15a
49 Comments
Chris Ash brings credibility to the pass defense.

Chris Ash probably won’t overhaul the entire Ohio State defense. He might not even be calling plays. But there’s an area of expertise where Ash will likely make an immediate impact – the secondary.

During an 18-year coaching career, Ash has made a name for himself by producing results in the secondary. That becomes the No. 1 goal for the Buckeyes, whose porous unit ranked near the dreggs of college football last season. Ohio State went through a season-long bottoming out, ranking 112th in pass defense. 

In comes Ash who’s had success fixing leaky defensive backfields from the West Coast to the Midwest to the South. He’s quiet, mild-mannered and effective on the recruiting trail, but his on-field work is what’s drawn praise.

As the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin and Arkansas, Ash used an aggressive 4-3 scheme that put pressure on the quarterback, forcing opposing offenses to react to what the defense presented. Press coverage is assumed to be part of his philosophy with the Buckeyes. Ash used a nickelback against high-powered spreads in the SEC. 

“We want the guys to play aggressive,” Ash told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2011. “When you talk about being aggressive, everyone thinks it’s calls, but you don’t have to do that. It’s how they play when the ball is snapped.”

His football IQ is said to be among the best in the country in regards to defensive principles. Tom Herman, a former co-worker of Ash’s at Iowa State, raved about the 2012 Wisconsin defense that nearly defeated the eventually 12-0 Buckeyes.

“I felt like I got out coached,” Herman told BTN. “He was very simple. He did not call one blitz on first or second down. He called one front and one coverage. Within that front and coverage, he could adjust to any formation or motion we gave him. And he had his kids extremely well coached up on recognition of plays and alignments.

“We were trying to run the ball into a nine-man front. I did a poor job in not having confidence in our throw game. You have to throw it over their heads and our guys have to make plays if they are going to commit both safeties to the run the way that they did. Even though we won in overtime (21-14), Chris had his guys more prepared than I did. I learned from it. And it’s better to learn from a win than to learn from a loss, I can tell you that.”

The biggest question surrounding Ash’s hire is who will call plays. Will it be Luke Fickell or Ash? In his updated Twitter bio, Ash lists his job title as co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. But there was a mystery for a few hours Thursday when the “co-“ designation wasn’t present.

“Our scheme is built on discipline. Our scheme is built on team defense, where guys have to be in the right spots.”

It’s possible the true answer will never be made public on which defensive coordinator is calling the shots on game day. It’s unlikely that head coach Urban Meyer would strip Fickell of play-calling duties. But it’s just as unlikely that Ash would come to Ohio State and not call plays after being a defensive play caller for three seasons. And what about Kerry Coombs — will he become solely a special teams coach?    

Everett Withers’ departure appeared to be an amicable split. Meyer and Withers said as much and Withers’ presence at the Orange Bowl seemed to indicate he left Ohio State on good terms.

But it became obvious over his two-year tenure in charge of safeties that breakdowns became too severe. That was never more evident than when senior Christian Bryant suffered a season-ending ankle injury in late September. An already shaky unit became dismal. Still, Withers said he’ll look back fondly on his time in Columbus.

“It was a great two years,” he told Eleven Warriors. “You win 24 games, man, that’s unbelievable. You win 24 games anyplace, that’s unbelievable. I enjoyed being around the coaching staff, the players – a great group of kids. I really enjoyed it. It was a fun experience for me, and I’ll always take a bunch from this experience into my future endeavors.”

The writing may have been on the wall for Withers to leave, especially when you consider he took at least a $200,000 annual pay cut. But he said the decision to leave the Buckeyes was difficult.

“Anytime you leave anyplace that you like and you enjoy, it’s hard to leave whether you’re going there for bigger and better things or not,” Withers said. “But I’ve always had a burning desire to be a head coach. To be able to do it at a place I think has a chance to be special was almost overwhelming to me.”

Ash’s numbers at Wisconsin and Arkansas are evidence of the possibilities next season. In one season with the Razorbacks, he improved their pass defense from 113th nationally (285.8 yards per game) to 72nd (235). His three years in Madison were even better.

Year 1 – 2010 – produced three all-Big Ten players in the secondary. In Ash’s second season at Wisconsin, the Badgers fielded the nation’s fourth-best pass defense, limiting opponents to 163 yards per game. In 2012, Wisconsin ranked 23rd in pass defense. It won the Big Ten and reached the Rose Bowl all three seasons.

The success in the secondary came with two- and three-star recruits, not the high-end players Ash will have at his disposal at Ohio State.

“Our scheme is built on discipline,” Ash told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2012. “Our scheme is built on team defense, where guys have to be in the right spots.”

Ash doubled as the defensive coordinator his final two seasons with the Badgers, and his units ranked in the top 15 nationally and top three in the Big Ten in total defense.

It doesn’t come as a shock that Buckeye fans are excited for Ash’s arrival, especially after a year Ohio State ranked 112th in pass defense (268 yards). The final three games resulted in a combined 1,143 yards passing and 12 touchdown passes for Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson.

“The more consistent you are with your package, the more knowledge the guys are going to gain,” Ash said. “When you’ve got knowledge and fundamentals, you’ve given yourself a chance to win.”

With Braxton Miller returning and talent remaining on defense, an appearance in the first four-team playoff is expected for the Buckeyes. Turning the defense from poor to adequate to elite (again) looks to be Ohio State’s ticket. Any of its defenses during the Jim Tressel era could have meant a national championship last season.

The hiring of Chris Ash could be the final piece of the Buckeyes’ crystal puzzle.

49 Comments

Comments

Thomas's picture

Press coverage?? YES PLEASE!

BSTP DeCon's picture

The woman on the far right, third row up looks like she just pushed out a nice fart. Solid push lol

Seattle Linga's picture

That's Gold Jerry Gold

extemporary08's picture

All 3 years Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl*

BuckRock's picture

If he is not calling the defensive game plan, or blitz packages. It will be another long season.

Furious George 27's picture

If he has the secondary playing fundamentally sound, that would already be a significant improvement. Being that he was a DC who made the calls, I doubt he would take a step back in his career progression and not have that duty. I think the "CO" is for Fickell to save some face as a valuable recruiter.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

gobucks96's picture

another long season?! What was long about this past season?

BSTP DeCon's picture

The yards that mediocre quarterbacks would throw for facing our defense.

Chief B1G Dump's picture

Its like playing chess...except Urban Meyer hands you a bunch of queens and rooks instead of pawn pieces. Go get em Ash! Press hard!

Edit - Yall know what I mean be the queen piece is chess...not a bunch of short north type queens.

gobucks96's picture


 
 
You mean queen, as the baddest ass piece on the board queen....
 
 

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Well, when you push a pawn all the way to the end of the board, you're probably not going to say, "make it a bishop."

Crimson's picture

an appearance in the first four-team playoff is expected for the Buckeyes

I would love to see it, it's possible, and our fan base expects it, but I'm not sure it is really expected.  Our secondary can only improve, but the question is by how much in the next year.  If we only move up to 72nd, I'm not so sure.  The linebackers need similar improvement without Shazier.  If those two areas improve dramatically and the rest of the team doesn't regress, then we should be in.

Earle's picture

No matter who's calling the plays, let's hope next year's defense does a much better job of bringing the, um, wood...

Italics are for emphasis; an ellipsis represents an unfinished thought.

LouGroza's picture

Will he be officially announced by the university anytime soon? Unless it already happened and I missed it, seems to be taking a while.

Crimson's picture

Speculation says they wait until Tuesday so that the posting period ends before it's official.

Buckeye06's picture

People were speculating before that the "move" couldn't happen til like the 20th because OSU is public and they have to open it up?
Not sure that's the reason but possible

UrbanPirate's picture

I like it! (But of course I'm the eternal Buckeye optimist)

Just... Go Bucks.
    

AltaBuck's picture

“The more consistent you are with your package, the more knowledge the guys are going to gain,” Ash said. “When you’ve got knowledge and fundamentals, you’ve given yourself a chance to win.”

This is called having an identity. Something the defense has lacked over the last 2 years.

I have been known on occasion to howl at the moon. - Crash Davis

OSU1995's picture

I don't know about that. I'm pretty consistent with my package, but I don't think I've gained much knowledge because of it.

“You have to make decisions, ... I've never pretended that every decision I've made was right. And I've been reminded of that.” 
     - James Patrick Tressel

raki's picture

Time Will tell and I hope he fixes the secondary,But wasn't Chris ash the Secondary and defensive coach when Braxton got that hail mary in 2011 against the Wilson led team at the shoe.

Furious George 27's picture

He was also on the Wisky staff that beat #1 OSU and held last season's OSU team to 14 in regulation.... The Hail Mary had more to do with Braxton's athletic ability to keep the play alive than poor defense.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

JLP36's picture

and beat by a Hail Mary by MSU the week prior.  That has to be a lesson learned after that!

JLP36

cuttyrock's picture

Jmho but that third Rose Bowl has an asterisk next to it. Penn St and The Ohio State University had a post season ban and Wisky finished third. It's not Wisky's fault though.

whobdis's picture

Yep..we need to find a DC who's D has NEVER been beaten. Not one single TD or FG. Only then..willl I be happy with the selection.

ibuck's picture

/sarcasm font?

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

Crimson's picture

It's funny.  Just upvote it.

umbyosu's picture

You bet your Ash it is.
I am all for status quo when things are going well.  But as we've seen the past 2-3 years, the defense has not met our high expectations, so shaking things up and bringing in the best talent to shape the high potential players is the best thing that could happen.

d1145fresh's picture

I have purposely stayed off the who defensive coordinator discussion on 11w for most of the season but I do have one overall general question that I simply don't comprehend. Whether it be Fickle or Withers or Coombs or now Ash... am I wrong in thinking that if Urban wants a more aggressive defense he simply tells his coordinator/position coach to play press coverage? I get that a coach has their philosophies but in my view it would come from the top down much like it does with the offense. Sure Herman calls the plays but Urban is the one dictating the style of the plays being called.

Furious George 27's picture

 Meyer can tell them to be more aggressive, but it ultimately falls on the DC to have the players "coached up" to do so. They weren't and fundamentally they were bad and now we have Ash to correct it.... Hopefully.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Understand the frustration, but go back and watch The Game, the B1G Champ game or the Clemson game again (if you dare). Focus on the DB's and you may come to the conclusion that the DB's were just not suited (for a variety of reasons) to play a lot of Press coverage.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

“Our scheme is built on discipline,” Ash told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2012. “Our scheme is built on team defense, where guys have to be in the right spots.”

This so much.

StarBuck113's picture

I like the hire, and like it even more after watching some of the videos out there of him working with other college and high school coaches.  I recommend anyone who hasn't watched the video to take a look.
 
http://brophyfootball.blogspot.com/2013/01/chris-ash-packaging-pressures...
 
He appears to be a good teacher.  The focus of his system is on making it easy for players to understand their responsibilities.  The defense is still aggressive.  What more could you ask for?  Especially with 3 new starters in the defensive backfield next year.
 
If the offensive productivity doesn't drop off significantly, a jump in pass defense like the one Arkansas made last year ( 113th to 72nd ) would likely be enough to win the B1G.
 

Tim's picture

Easy to understand sounds really good after the confusion we saw most of this season.  Hopefully there will be a lot fewer breakdowns in the secondary.

INTLBUCK's picture

Great piece. I think I am actually more excited about this hire than Larry Johnson, and I was stoked about that one. 

Jbucks's picture

Dfont want to beat a dead horse, bcuz I know its been asked and answered several times on here, & I know this is off topic but, the 4 team playoff, is it winners from both games play for national title & losers play for Rose, or somthing like that?
on topic- Cant wait for next season so wr can finally see a disciplined Defense, hopefully he can fix the Tackling problems as well as the Coverage

Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it-John 1:5 SEC meet Ohio State, Ohio State meet SEC

OSU1995's picture

Semifinals rotate each year for the first 3 years:
2014: Rose, Sugar
2015: Orange, Cotton
2016: Chick-Fil-A, Fiesta
This upcoming season the Rose and Sugar are played on January 1st, 2015. The winners of each play in the National Championship game in Dallas on January 12th.

“You have to make decisions, ... I've never pretended that every decision I've made was right. And I've been reminded of that.” 
     - James Patrick Tressel

Jbucks's picture

gotchya, thank you

Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it-John 1:5 SEC meet Ohio State, Ohio State meet SEC

D-Day0043's picture

Very telling.... Did you really learn anything Mr. Herman?

“I felt like I got out coached,” Herman told BTN. “He was very simple. He did not call one blitz on first or second down. He called one front and one coverage. Within that front and coverage, he could adjust to any formation or motion we gave him. And he had his kids extremely well coached up on recognition of plays and alignments.
“We were trying to run the ball into a nine-man front. I did a poor job in not having confidence in our throw game. You have to throw it over their heads and our guys have to make plays if they are going to commit both safeties to the run the way that they did. Even though we won in overtime (21-14), Chris had his guys more prepared than I did. I learned from it. And it’s better to learn from a win than to learn from a loss, I can tell you that.”

Oyster's picture

Three seasons removed and we still reference back to the days of Tressel Ball.  We certainly had it good while he was here.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

This piece and the link in DJ's scully about Pete Carroll's (yes, I know, I hate Petey too) base 4-3 Under really complement each other and will make you understand where Ash is coming from. Makes me feel very good about the prospects for our defense this coming year.

JLP36's picture

The success in the secondary came with two- and three-star recruits, not the high-end players Ash will have at his disposal at Ohio State.

 
I think that we can all agree that recruiting service rankings are less than scientific.  I think that it is crazy to think that  Wisconsin doesn't have high end players in their secondary.  I think that the Buckeyes that have lined up against them would agree that they are plenty good.  I hope our new coach was a big reason, but I have a feeling that those guys could ball pretty well even if they only had two or three stars.
I hope the scheme is more aggressive.
I hope the scheme is simpler.  If the guy is covered, it doesn't matter if the QB is confused or not.  I am sure many opposing QBs were confused by our secondary this year - I was! - but it did not stop them from finding the open man.

JLP36

buckeye_in_ky's picture

So who is going to be in charge of the defense? I think Ash is the man for the job.
 

buckskin's picture

Discipline and being in the right spot are two things needed for this
D. Hopefully they are taught to read keys as well.

BuckeyeDale's picture

IMHO, Priority #1 needs to be sitting the D-coaches down, Day One, and establishing the 'chain of command' and designating how we're going to do business.  If LF is being demoted (in title) from D-Cor to Co-D-Cor, responsibilities need to be established, set up and agreed upon.  Each coach should formally draw up and present their ideas for how to do their business, and 2 weeks later, sit everyone down again and each coach explains his duties, responsibilities, goals, and how he'll achieve them, as he understands his tasking; to the group including Urban Meyer.  There was way too much dysfunction and miscommunication this past year to accept anything less.  AJ needs to get this group together, singing the same song from the same sheet of music.

 
BuckeyeDale
GO BUCKS!!

kdogg72's picture

I like the hire and I like the hire of Johnson. I think our defense is only going to improve. This will be the year that Urban's recruiting will really shine. Until now we have mostly played with the same recruits from the Tressel/Fickell era. I believe we will actually be better all around next year
 
 

Seattle Linga's picture

Spring ball can't get here any sooner KD - Nicely said