Over the past two seasons, the Cornell defense has ranked No. 2 in the country in rushing yards allowed — including first in the Ivy League both years. For the Red, stopping the run starts with the defensive line, which has been a team strength ever since head coach Jim Knowles ’87 took over in 2004. With three returning senior starters in tri-captain Jonathan Lucas, Jeff Dicks and Ryan Kiscadden, that trend should continue.
The group is headlined by Lucas, a three-year starter who earned second team All-Ivy League honors a season ago. Lucas finished the year with seven tackles for a loss and a team-high four sacks, and should once again be one of the top rush ends in the conference.
Dicks played in all 10 games last year and collected 21 stops and two sacks from the defensive tackle position. At 6-2 and 271 pounds, his size and strength make him a very effective weapon against the run, plugging gaps and forcing runners outside.
Kiscadden, who had very little experience prior to last season, had quite possibly the best campaign of the three. From his defensive end spot, he posted three sacks and led the line in tackles with 41, including seven for a loss.
“When you look down the line and you see [Dicks and Kiscadden], you just trust them so much and you know that they’re going to do their job,” Lucas said.
Sophomore defensive end Graham Rihn should also see significant playing time after having an outstanding spring training camp. As a freshman, he played in nine games, recording eight tackles and two passes defended.
“Graham Rihn may eventually be the best out of all three of those ends,” Knowles said. “He is pushing Ryan for a starting spot. That’s how good he is.”
Sophomores Dario Arezzo and Scott Boone will provide added depth, and both saw action last season.
“We have a lot of guys who have played in games before — a lot of game experience coming back,” Lucas said. “We’re really deep.”
The Red defensive line also boasts incredible speed, allowing Knowles the versatility to experiment with many different formations. Lucas, in particular, may see some looks as a hybrid-end and linebacker.
“We’re a really fast defensive line,” Lucas said. “It really showed last year against a lot of teams that underestimated our speed. As far as stopping the run, we are able to run past some blocks before they develop. When backs and guards pull to come kick us out, we’re up the field past them.”
In addition, while Knowles has traditionally relied heavily on the blitz, he may be able to play a little more conservatively this year, which should be a relief to the secondary.
“I think we’ll be able to do a lot more this year without blitzing,” Knowles said. “That should give more help to the secondary in terms of not leaving them man-to-man. We’ll play more of a four-man rush and let those guys get after the quarterback.”
Seniors Matt Darby and Scott Feldman, junior Spencer Hansen, sophomores Pete Burnham, Garrett Grove, Frank Kunis, Jonathan Ruch, John Stathas, and freshmen Ricky Ballou and Trevin Cowman round out the unit. Each will attempt to crack a rotation, that substitutes heavily at the end of games to keep the defense fresh.