By Mitch Stacy
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS — When then-Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash came to Urban Meyer last year seeking his opinion on the open Rutgers coaching job, Meyer advised him it was a “no-brainer.”
Ash had some other head coaching opportunities at the time also, Meyer said, and Rutgers was a good one. He told Ash to look at two criteria: The recruiting base and whether the team has won in the past.
“If the recruiting base is below average and they haven’t won before, don’t you take that job, don’t do it because in four years you’ll be looking for (a new) one,” Meyer said this week. “The one thing about Rutgers, have they won before? Absolutely. Do they have a great recruiting base? One of the best in America. So it was kind of a no brainer for him.”
Ash brings the Scarlet Knights (2-2) to Columbus Saturday to play the No. 2 Buckeyes (3-0) for the first time since he helped run the defense and coached safeties last season and during the national championship run in 2014. It probably won’t be much fun for him. Rutgers is a five-touchdown underdog and just lost two key players to injuries for the season in last week’s loss to Iowa.
There will be familiarity because Ash, who employs seven staffers — including five assistant coaches — with recent Ohio State ties, runs the same basic offense and defense as Ohio State.
“We had a great two-year run there,” Ash said. “It’s not about me. It’s not about the other people in this program that have been at Ohio State. It’s about us preparing our football team to continue to get better and go play against a great opponent. That’s all I’m worried about.”
Some other things to look for Saturday:
ROTATING CORNERBACKS: Incredible wealth has emerged for Meyer at the cornerback position, with three guys playing lights out this season. Gareon Conley was one of just three returning starters on the defense, so coaches already knew he was elite. Denzel Ward, the fastest player on the team, and Marshon Lattimore, returning from a hamstring injury, have helped make Ohio State’s defense among the best in the nation. The Buckeyes have nine interceptions through three games, four of them pick-sixes. Lattimore has three picks, and Conley one.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had three (cornerbacks) of the quality we have right now,” Meyer said.
SPEAKING OF THE DEFENSE: Ohio State ranks 13th nationally in total defense. The four pick-sixes lead the FBS, and the unit also is No. 1 in turnover margin (+9).
“The only thing that’s probably a little bit surprising is how well they’re playing so early,” Ash said. “That staff has done an outstanding job of getting those guys game ready in an early fashion. In 2014, we lost that Virginia Tech game early in the season and you just don’t see that type of stumble or pot hole for this football team in the first three games.”
HUGE LOSSES: Rutgers is dealing with the season-ending injuries to star wide receiver and kick returner Janarion Grant, as well as defensive end Quanzell Lambert. Grant’s loss is a killer for the Scarlet Knights. He’s accounted for six touchdowns this year, including a punt return and a kickoff return.
QUARTERBACK QUESTION: Chris Laviano hasn’t gotten a ringing endorsement from the coaching staff as the Rutgers starter, and true freshman Tylin Oden got more reps at practice last week. Oden may get more playing time this week, but he has not proven that he can throw the ball.
RUTGERS CAN RUN: After missing the season opener, Robert Martin leads the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 119.3 yards. He had 106 against Iowa last weekend. With Grant sidelined, he should get more touches. He led the team with 763 yards rushing last season.
BOOKER STILL AILING: Ohio State linebacker Dante Booker, who sprained his knee in the opening game, is questionable for the Rutgers game. Jerome Baker has been an outstanding fill-in, grabbing a tipped pass and running it back 68 yards for a touchdown in the 45-24 win over Oklahoma Sept. 17.