Ruffing blossoms in Washington & Jefferson backfield
Washington & Jefferson running back Ryan Ruffing majors in accounting, and sometimes the math is easy.
Ruffing's numbers are adding up to a monster season.
The junior from Thomas Jefferson leads NCAA Division III with 11 rushing touchdowns, and his 542 yards rank second.
His production has helped No. 24 W&J (3-0) and its no-huddle offense average 51.7 points, which ranks fifth in the nation.
“He's a big, strong back who runs really hard,” sophomore quarterback Pete Coughlin said of Ruffing, who is 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds. “He's fast. He has the whole package as a running back.”
Ruffing already has surpassed his combined total of 391 yards from the previous two seasons, when he served as a backup to Dion Wiegand, a first-team All-Presidents' Athletic Conference selection in 2013. W&J coach Mike Sirianni said he expected Ruffing to flourish as the No. 1 back, but Ruffing said being in the national leaders wasn't on his radar.
“I definitely didn't expect all the touchdowns,” said Ruffing, who also has a receiving touchdown. “It's always fun putting up big numbers. It's how the offense is supposed to be — fast-paced. We've just been executing our game plan.”
That game plan includes using a hurry-up offense to make it difficult for defenses to make substitutions, particularly near the goal line. And Ruffing has taken advantage, as 10 of his 11 rushing touchdowns are from inside the 10-yard line.
“He's a very good red-zone runner because he lowers his shoulders and doesn't shy away from contact,” Sirianni said. “He's always falling forward. Even when we don't block everyone, he's able to create his own holes a little bit.”
Ruffing describes his running style as “aggressive.” He has bulked up from 190 pounds since his days at Thomas Jefferson, and the added weight has altered his game.
“In high school, you're probably one of the fastest players on the field, if not the fastest,” Ruffing said. “It's a lot easier to run around guys. That was like 20 pounds ago. After 15 pounds of muscle, everyone else is a lot faster, and you have to try to run through guys more.
“(The added weight) definitely lets me break a lot more arm tackles and keep my balance better. You're not getting so much of the impact from hits.”
The ascendance of Ruffing also has taken pressure off Coughlin, an Upper St. Clair graduate who is in his first season as the starter. Defenses can't key on either player, and opponents haven't found a way to contain the run or the pass. In Saturday's 48-30 victory over Carnegie Mellon, Ruffing ran 25 times for 202 yards and two touchdowns, and Coughlin went 26 of 38 for 333 yards and five touchdowns.
The tandem is trying to lead a young W&J team back to the nation's elite after consecutive 8-3 seasons that ended with first-round losses in the NCAA D-III playoffs.
Ruffing's gaudy pace is bound to slow down, especially with a matchup against preseason PAC favorite and No. 25 Thomas More looming Oct. 4. But don't expect Ruffing to stress over his spot in the national leaderboard, as he's more concerned with a different number.
“The goal is to win every game the rest of the season,” he said. “Other than that, nothing else really matters.”