Ohio State Football: Inside the Overhaul of the Nation’s Most Criticized Defense

For the third time in four years, Luke Fickell faced the media during the first week of fall camp with a different role than the one he held the year before. But this time, the Ohio State co-defensive coordinator carried himself with a confidence that one wouldn’t expect from what was one of America’s most criticized coaches in 2013—and for good reason.

After all, there isn’t anywhere for the Buckeyes defense to go but up.

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three years since Fickell was serving as Ohio State’s interim head coach, a one-season stopgap between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer.

And although the former Buckeyes defensive lineman opted to remain at his alma mater as the team’s co-defensive coordinator, it’d be tough to blame him if he ever had second thoughts about that decision over the course of the past two seasons.

First came 2012, which saw Ohio State patch together a 12-0 season, despite a less-than-stellar defense that had Meyer even admitting that he had questions about his staff.

But the Buckeyes could only fill so many holes in their ship by the time last season’s Big Ten Championship Game and Orange Bowl rolled around, with Ohio State surrendering a combined 1,014 yards and 74 points in its final two games of the season—both Buckeye losses.

Enter Chris Ash, the former Arkansas and Wisconsin defensive coordinator who now finds himself as Fickell’s running mate on the Ohio State staff. And while Meyer’s preference to Ash’s defensive…

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