A repeating chorus in the song of the recent Cincinnati Bearcats has been the lack of an effective pass rush. In the last three seasons, the Bearcats have ranked 12th, 10th and tied for 10th in sacks among American Athletic Conference teams. This has occurred even with talented players like Kevin Mouhon, Cortez Broughton and Silverberry Mouhon plying their trade on the defensive line.
For Luke Fickell, this must be a frustrating trend to see. As a defensive coordinator with Ohio State, Fickell clearly made applying pressure a key part of his strategy, with the Buckeyes ranking among the top 10 teams in the country in sacks in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The Bearcats only had 12 sacks in Fickell’s first season at the helm, powered by then sophomore Marquise Copeland, who had 3.5 of his very own.
Aside from adjusting the game plan for the defense with his coaching staff, including coordinator Marcus Freeman and defensive line coach Steve Stripling, Fickell’s best strategy for improving UC’s sack total is through recruiting. In the much celebrated 2018 class, that was clearly an important point of focus. That’s what brought in Malik Vann, among others. The 2019 class has addressed the secondary quite a bit, but recently the defensive line has started to get some attention.
Izaiah Ruffin is the most recent commit for the 2019 class. He is a three-star defensive end from Oak Park, Illinois who joined defensive tackle Immanuel Hickman and outside linebacker Brody Ingle as current commits that will play either on the edge or up front and have a chance to go after quarterbacks every week. Ruffin, at 6’6” and 235 pounds, has great size and length and could turn into a pretty incredible pass rusher. He is ranked a top 100 defensive end in the 2019 class and the No. 33 prospect in Illinois by 247Sports. He picked UC over Ball State, Eastern Michigan and Toledo, among others.
Let’s not forget about Hickman, though, as the 6’3”, 235 pound native of Chesterfield, Virginia is also a three-star commit and has a ton of defensive versatility. He can play the interior on the defensive line, but could also switch to defensive end or outside linebacker. Considered the No. 21 recruit in Virginia and the No. 59 defensive tackle in the 2019 class, Hickman turned down offers from schools like UCF, Temple and East Carolina to commit to UC.
The Bearcats are going to improve on the pass rush in 2018. Adding Vann and others will make sure of that. What is perhaps more important for sustained success is adding players for the years beyond 2018 and that’s just what Fickell and company are doing.