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Military Bowl Position Preview: Quarterbacks

Two quarterbacks who started the season second on the depth chart will try to finish it as the winning quarterback of a bowl team.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bearcats are going to a bowl game! Unfortunately, they won’t be playing until Dec. 31. That means we’ve got to do something to pass the time. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Military Bowl between the Bearcats and Virginia Tech Hokies, we’ll be breaking down the matchup position by position. Today we are looking at the quarterbacks for each team.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Test after test has been thrown at Desmond Ridder and he has yet to buckle. Even in games in which he has struggled, he has managed to step up and make throws in the pocket and use his running ability to keep the offense from disintegrating. In what has been a pretty exceptional year by any standard, Ridder, despite being a redshirt freshman, has provided the type of quarterback play the Bearcats have needed.

In terms of raw stats, Ridder isn’t on the same prolific level as guys in Heisman Trophy contention, but he has still been far above average. It starts with his efficiency. Ridder makes smart decisions with the ball, both when he’s throwing and when he leads the run-option schemes the Bearcats favor. He has completed 62.5 percent of his pass attempts this season and that has not come at the expense of deep throws. With an adjusted average yards per attempt of 8.3, Ridder’s throws aren’t just smart, they’re effective at stretching the field and moving the Bearcats down field.

Going hand-in-hand with his efficiency is his solid instincts when it comes to avoiding interceptions. Ridder was only picked off five times during the regular season and although he had some fumble issues occasionally, he was generally careful with the ball in his hands. As a quarterback who can run as well as he throws, Ridder had to control the ball more than the average quarterback. He racked up 148 rushing attempts this season, with a large portion coming by design in UC’s system. Those attempts led to 574 yards and made him the most prevalent rushing quarterback for the Bearcats since Chad Plummer ran for 606 in 1997.

Should the Bearcats need to go to their bench, they have a pretty solid backup in Hayden Moore. The former starter actually began the year at the top of the depth chart but was demoted after the first series against UCLA. Ridder took over, led the Bearcats to victory and never looked back. Despite never becoming a star, Moore has been serviceable during his career, completing 57.4 percent of his passes for 6,398 yards, 42 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. Obviously the Bearcats aren’t expecting to use him, but they could do worse if circumstances dictate otherwise.

Virginia Tech Hokies

The Hokies lost their starting quarterback back in September when dual-threat signal caller Josh Jackson fractured his left fibula. Filling in for Jackson has been redshirt junior Ryan Willis, who has done a commendable job under center. He has thrown for 2,497 yards and 22 touchdowns, which outpace Ridder’s numbers of 2,359 and 19. But, despite playing in fewer games than his UC counterpart, Wills has been asked to throw more often and that has led to a few more interceptions (eight). With that written, a 22:8 touchdown to interception ratio is still an enviable mark to have.

Wills, who transferred to Virginia Tech from Kansas after two years as a Jayhawk, isn’t the same running threat that Jackson is, but can be effective on the move. He twice rushed for more than 60 yards this season, including a high of 88 yards against North Carolina. He also threw for 300 yards three times, with the most recent example in the regular season finale against Marshall.

As far as backups go, the Hokies don’t have much in terms of experience. Freshman Quincy Patterson II was the third stringer before Jackson went down and he only threw five passes all season.

Who has the edge?

This game should feature some very good quarterback play. Both Ridder and Wills are more than competent when it comes to airing it out and there is the added element of the run to both of their games. Obviously that is more pronounced for Ridder, but Wills counters with slightly more prolific passing numbers. The difference really comes down to efficiency and Ridder is better in that regard, with superior marks in completion percentage (62.5 vs. 58.0), adjusted yards per attempt (8.3 vs. 7.7) and rating (145.0 vs. 137.9).

Advantage: Cincinnati