Brad Bournival

When Ohio State coach Urban Meyer looks in the mirror this week, don’t be surprised if he looks 10 years younger.

What the 52-year-old sees heading into Saturday is a virtual carbon copy of his Buckeyes in the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. While the talent level is vastly different, the similarities are undeniable under first-year coach Chris Ash.

Ash, 42, was the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach for the Buckeyes during their 2014 national championship run and in 2015. He has seven assistants in his system who learned under Meyer.

Heck, there isn’t a side of the ball that isn’t Meyer-influenced.

It won’t be Meyer’s first rodeo facing a former assistant. He’s 6-1 against them but, with one so fresh off campus, facing Ash is cause for concern.

“That is very serious stuff and we have had that conversation this morning in great detail,” Meyer, who is 44-3 in games where he’s had more than a week to prepare for his opponent, said. “We changed most of our defensive signals prior to this, and offensively we’re being very cautious.

“Also special teams, my guy that helped me, Vince [Okruch], was there. [Now] he’s on their staff, so we’ve got to just be sharp.”

‘It’s our defense’

Defense is especially a concern. Ash took an Ohio State defense ranked 112th against the pass and 47th in total defense and improved it to 29th and 19th, respectively, in one season.

Ash has now transplanted that defensive system at Rutgers, where the team is learning a new identity.

“It’s our defense,” Meyer said. “I mean, like, exactly. They do a very good job, and their defensive line is much improved, and the guys are bigger and stronger.”

Seeing it as a blessing or a curse is all in the eyes of the coaches and players.

While it might help offensively in recognizing what a defense is doing, the same can be said on the other side of the ball. Both teams have not only seen the plays on film but have prepped for it in practice all season.

‘A funky mix’

The No. 1 offense isn’t always going against the No. 2 defense off the field, but they are seeing the same thing every week, which makes for easier turnover and less time in the film room.

“It’s a funky mix between the two,” Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett said. “There’s part of a comfort level with that, but also you know that since [Ash] does know our offense because he practiced with us for two years, he won’t let our base things happen.

“He’ll throw in some new things. At the end of the day, we’ll have to be prepared for what he’s going to throw at us and be able to make adjustments on the fly.”

‘Go play this game’

The Catch-22 in all of it is Rutgers finds itself in the same situation.

It’s easy to game plan on both sides of the ball, but it’s also easy to be evaluated, leaving a situation where adjustments will be magnified.

“I can know the players all I want, [it] doesn’t matter. Our players have to know the players and matchups and the guys that they are going to go against,” Ash said during his Monday news conference. “They are going to have to go out and execute the call in all three phases. That’s what matters.”

In a nutshell, it’s not so much the X’s and O’s as much as it is the ABCs of the game.

Throw familiarity out of the picture. Stick to the basics and everything else should take care of itself.

“You put players in position to make plays,” Buckeyes running backs coach Tony Alford said. “It really comes down to the training and making plays. It’s, ‘Go play this game.’ Don’t make it more complicated than what it is.”