COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer had already checked off a list of Rutgers staffers who had ties to Ohio State.
The Buckeyes coach had recounted his conversations and relationship with Chris Ash, and he had addressed the challenge of coaching against his former assistants and his previous experiences doing it.
But it might not have been until Wednesday afternoon on the practice field that it really hit Meyer just how closely the program Ash is building at Rutgers is meant to resemble the one Meyer coaches at Ohio State.
“Offense, defense, kicking game -- it’s almost like a mirror,” Meyer said. “I just worry about, they know you so well. We were running scout team [on Wednesday] and our twos were running Rutgers plays. But I was watching it like, ‘That’s our play.’
“There are going to be a lot of similarities, so we are being very cautious. And we have got to be sharp.”
Some of that preparation began this summer, when the coaching staff changed its defensive signals in part because of Ash’s familiarity with every aspect of how Ohio State operates on that side of the ball.
It was Ash’s hiring in 2014, after all, that helped kick-start a massive overhaul of that unit from everything to how the Buckeyes defended the pass to the rugby-style tackling he implemented. And after two wildly productive seasons, Ohio State certainly wasn’t going to be in a hurry to dramatically change gears just because Ash left for Rutgers -- taking a few friends along with him.
From a respected strength coach to a former Tom Herman protege now leading the Scarlet Knights on offense to even a recruiting assistant, Ash wound up hiring seven staff members with ties to Meyer’s Ohio State program. It was always Ash’s intention to use that blueprint from the Buckeyes to build his own empire with the Scarlet Knights, with a dash of what he’s learned at previous stops mixed in, to rebuild a team that had hit a rough patch since joining the Big Ten.
The question is whether or not Ash can beat Ohio State at its own game, as the playing field is unlikely to ever be truly level. And it’s not one that will just be asked on Saturday at the Horseshoe, when Rutgers will visit with an undeniable disadvantage in terms of personnel. It also will be a question down the road as the Scarlet Knights try to make up ground in the ridiculously competitive Big Ten East Division.
“From a program standpoint, I had a very successful tenure there at Ohio State. We won a lot of games, had a lot of great players and I learned a lot not only from coach Meyer, but all the other assistant coaches that are on that staff -- an exceptional staff,” Ash said. “I have combined things I take from there in my two years along with things I learned at Arkansas and Wisconsin and other stops along the way. But I would be foolish not to take a good majority of what we did there at Ohio State because it works exceptionally well.
“I just have to always be looking because what works here at Rutgers, ‘Does it work here with our staff, our players?’ If it does, absolutely we will do it.”
This week, though, the Buckeyes are expecting to see a heavy dose of what they do used against them.
Ohio State’s offensive scout team was already giving Meyer deja vu. Ash is intimately aware of the defensive scheme and its pressure points. And the Rutgers coach also spent two seasons facing the power spread attack led by J.T. Barrett on the practice field as a co-defensive coordinator.
That has already forced the Buckeyes into a little bit of extra preparation, particularly because they are fully aware of the impact Ash can have on a game.
“I think they have a good philosophy and it’s similar to ours, so with that, it kind of makes us comfortable because we’ve seen it before,” Barrett said. “But I know he’s going to throw some things we haven’t seen at us, too, so we have to make sure we are prepared and ready to go.
“It’s a funky mix. There’s partly a comfort level with that, but also you know that since he does know our offense because we went against each other in practice for two years, he’s not going to let our base things try to happen. ... I just think he’s going to get them ready to go play against us.”
And as Meyer was reminded, the way those Scarlet Knights play should look pretty familiar.