Through the season’s first month, two former Miami (Ohio) stars have helped take their new teams to the next level. The MAC’s leading tackler from a season ago, Ivan Pace, Jr., joined his younger brother, Deshawn (20 tackles, QB sack, 3 TFLs, INT-TD, PBU and one blocked kick), in the Cincinnati linebacking corps. The chemistry has been palpable for the nation’s 22nd-ranked defense. Ivan leads the nation with 13.5 tackles for loss entering Week 6, and he also has six quarterback sacks with two forced fumbles.
While at Miami (Ohio), he displayed a knack for reading the action instinctively and always flashed a short-area burst to reach the quarterback. Pace has often been far too much for running backs to handle in blitz pickup at various stages (2nd QTR/6:40, Ohio ’21).
On Ohio’s next drive during that game, Pace, Jr. forced a fumble (2nd QTR, Ohio ’21).
Never a threat to pass the eye test, teams around the AAC have their sights fixated on Pace, Jr. when they turn on Cincinnati’s game film. He began the year with 12 tackles, one quarterback sack and three-and-a-half tackles for loss against Arkansas on the road. He has posted four double-digit tackle performances and is currently tied for fifth nationally in that category (56 tackles).
Prior to the 2020 campaign, Pace, Jr. changed his number from 23 to zero for the Redhawks. And he’s responded by averaging nearly 10 tackles per game over that time span.
Statistically, there have been none better than the Bearcats’ latest star.
In Lawrence, Kansas (5-0) also got a boost from a former RedHawk with the addition of Phelps. He is the same explosive player who nearly decapitated two blockers in kickoff coverage during the 2021 Frisco Classic Bowl. That type of intensity is nothing new for Phelps, who plays the game with an attitude that tips the scales of angry play. His kickoff cover prowess was evident during the 2021 season at various points (tackle, 3rd QTR/8:26, Ohio ’21).
He’s strong with his hands and can win at the point of attack. Phelps has posted sacks in each of his last two outings after starting the year with a dominant three-sack performance against Tennessee Tech. The Big 12 Conference named him the Defensive Player of the Week after the performance (9-5-22).
Nine-and-a-half of his 30 tackles in 2021 went for quarterback sacks, but it was the manner in which he finished those which catches the eyes of opponents.
The team faces its biggest test of the year this week against TCU. The Jayhawks are counting on Phelps, a redshirt junior, to continue his torrid pace. The Horned Frogs rushing attack ranks second in the Big 12 and sixth nationally at 252 yards per game. One of Phelps’ strengths is suddenness. His hands have to be ready for combat due to the size of TCU offensive tackles Brandon Coleman (6’6, 325) and Andrew Coker (6’7, 315). Coleman is a former guard who moves bodies in the run game and Coker’s size often engulfs opponents.
Kansas, however, ranks 39th in the country in rushing defense and allowed just 26 yards on the ground to Iowa State (3-2) in last week’s 14-11 victory.