Cincinnati Bearcats improved to 9-1 with a 20-17 win over USF on Saturday and are now 20-3 the last two seasons.
Yet, despite this incredible success (which follow some of the program’s darkest days) people are furious and calling for changes to the offense.
Changes should almost certainly happen, but here’s the thing with the changes. You cannot blame one person.
Desmond Ridder is struggling. He played poorly on Saturday and hasn’t played particularly great all season. There are times where he makes the wrong read in an RPO play, he misses wide receivers down the field (either doesn’t see the open man or just inaccurate throws) and he occasionally holds the ball too long. Those are mistakes that are solely on Ridder and must be fixed. But benching him, and plugging in a new quarterback and assuming that he will do all of those things to perfect and magically solve the offense’s problems is a little naive.
Offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock has done a really poor job calling plays and putting Ridder into a position to have success. It doesn’t help that the offensive line has often times played poorly. And it also doesn’t help that the wide receivers occasionally struggle with separation and lack the ability to make plays on the ball. The best passing plays of the year have been the ones where Ridder hits a guy in stride or the ball hits the receiver right on the number.
If any change should be made, it’s probably to the offensive coordinator position, but at this stage in the season, with 4* games left, it’s too risky to shake things up. Denbrock knows his players better than anyone and is a veteran coach. He needs to figure it out, as opposed to letting Gino Guidugli call plays for the first time in his career during the biggest stretch run the program has had in 10 years.
Now let’s try and get inside the mind of a 20 year old quarterback. You know your play calling is failing you and you aren’t sure what to do, as far as run that play or audible. You aren’t sure how long your offensive line is going to protect you for, so you are scared about how long you have to make a decision. You are worried that the pass to the wide receivers must be absolutely perfect or they wont catch it or it could be picked off. All of those things must be weighing on Ridder’s mind and that could really be affecting his confidence and his ability to make plays.
I’m not saying Ridder is solely responsible for leading the Bearcats to 9 wins and 20 the last two years, but he has certainly had a hand in it and you can identify several plays in each win that was him maximizing his talents to lead his team.
The offense was bad on Saturday. Brutal. And Ridder has no doubt struggled in 2019 and it’s not acceptable. I said during the ECU game that benching him for Ben Bryant wouldn’t have been the worst idea because it could have given the team a jolt. I was very, very wrong. Because Ridder made plays with his legs to help the Bearcats win.
The way the offense has played is absolutely not acceptable. And changes must be made. But here’s the thing with Ridder and here’s the thing with everyone who wants him benched - it’s not going to happen. Maybe it should, but it won’t. Luke Fickell is simple not going to bench a QB who has helped lead the team to 20 out of 23 wins. What kind of message does that send to the team? To recruits? That as soon as you start to struggle, you are done. That’s Mick Cronin style (pulling a player after a mistake). The response to this is going to be, “the message it sends to the team is we want to win”. But haven’t the Bearcats been winning? Ridder has been the guy for 1+ seasons now and has been a huge part of countless wins. They have found a way to overcome his struggles the last few weeks and are winning in spite of him, no doubt. What makes you think the backup is the best guy for the job?
What makes you think the backup, in this case Ben Bryant, can hit WRs in stride? Can help his WRs create separation? Can make much better decisions than Ridder? Will Bryant have enough time to make those better decisions? Who is calling the plays for Bryant, is it still Denbrock? If you don’t have faith in Denbrock calling plays with Ridder, what makes you think he is going to suddenly maximize Bryant’s strengths and call the right plays? And most importantly, can Bryant do what Ridder does with his legs? Because the last time I checked, that’s how he has impacted this team lately, by running the ball well and putting up big first downs in key situations.
The answer to some or all of those questions MIGHT be yes. It might be no. Are you really willing to risk the AAC Championship and Cotton Bowl on a hunch that you might be smarter than the head coach that watches his players every day in practice? I trust Fickell’s judgment. And I trust RIdder to get it figured it out. And I recommend you do too. Whether you want him benched or not (and wanting it is a valid thought), it is simply not going to happen and it would benefit everyone to just keep supporting Ridder and believe in his abilities to help Cincinnati beat Temple and Memphis.