When you have a problem, you have to fix it. That’s a rule of life. If you just let something sit and hope for a solution, you’re going to be disappointed. Luke Fickell and the Cincinnati Bearcats have clearly identified one of their biggest problems and are dedicated to solving it. That problem is, of course, the pass rush. It has been a sore point in Clifton for several years.
Over the last three seasons, the Bearcats have accumulated a total of 44 sacks, ranking last, 10th and tied for 10th, respectively, in the American Athletic Conference. Surprisingly enough, this past season was the low point, as UC managed only 12 sacks. Marquise Copeland led the team with 3.5 and was one of only seven players with at least one. That type of production is not something Fickell is used to seeing or coaching. In his last season as defensive coordinator at Ohio State, the Buckeyes led the Big Ten in sacks with 45. Yup, as you may have surmised, that’s more than the Bearcats have had in the last three years combined.
So what is Fickell and UC as a whole doing to address this obviously troubling issue?
The first antidote that’s been turned to is recruiting. Only players can make the sacks and Fickell and his staff have brought in a few great ones for 2018 to improve the pressure production. The top prospect is Malik Vann, who is a four-star defensive end and the next great pass-rusher for the program. The Bearcats aren’t putting all their eggs in Vann’s basket either, loading up on the defensive line during this recruiting cycle with Daeshon Martin, Lorenz Metz and Blake Bacevich also having signed during early signing day.
But the recruiting has not stopped there. Yesterday, it was reported that defensive end Myjai Sanders committed to the Bearcats. A three-star recruit from Jacksonville, Florida, Sanders is ranked the No. 83 player at his position for the 2018 class and visited UC on Jan. 19, according to 247Sports. He selected UC over 18 other offers, including ones from Mississippi State, UConn and UCF.
With so many fresh recruits coming in, the Bearcats need someone to mold them. Fickell and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman will obviously focus on the unit, but they needed a more dedicated teacher after 2017 defensive line coach Al Washington left for Michigan. It appears that the man to replace Washington will be an old friend, as it was reported that Steve Stripling will be brought on as defensive line coach.
SOURCE: Cincinnati is expected to hire Steve Stripling as defensive line coach. Stripling spent the past five seasons as Tennessee's defensive line coach and assistant head coach. He begins his second stint at Cincinnati, where he coached defensive line... https://t.co/oHLsgzW8mM— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) January 22, 2018
Stripling was last seen in Cincinnati as the interim head coach leading the Bearcats to a 48-34 win over Duke in the 2012 Belk Bowl. He stepped in after Butch Jones left for Tennessee, but he would end up following Jones and become a Volunteer in 2013, where he has coached for the last five seasons. As the last head coach to win a bowl game with the Bearcats, Stripling is a prodigal son who was actually around last time UC was good. Additionally, he helped create a pass-rushing machine of exceptional efficiency while he was coaching the Bearcats. With students like Derek Wolfe, Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano, Stripling was leading a unit that averaged 34 sacks per year from 2010 to 2012, including a Big East best 46 in 2011.
While we wait for official confirmation of Stripling’s hire (which seems likely since Jones was axed at Tennessee), it is promising to see UC take an active role in improving this area of weakness.