Rebuilding a program usually takes a long time but the Cincinnati Bearcats arrived ahead of schedule last year. Similarly, becoming a program-leading quarterback usually doesn’t happen over night but Desmond Ridder didn’t get the memo, going from redshirt freshman backup to starter for an 11-win squad in the span of a few months.
Ridder was quickly given a chance to prove himself, entering last year’s season opener to replace starter Hayden Moore early in the first quarter. Although he was sacked on his first play under center in that game, he certainly rose to the occasion from there. Michael Warren carried the offense, but Ridder kept things steady and completed 13-of-24 passes for an even 100 yards and also added 63 yards on the ground. It may not have been the biggest breakout of all time, but it was a promising start to a more than promising season.
As a passer, Ridder displayed an ability to make correct reads and efficiently connect with receivers all season. He completed 62.4 percent of his throws across 13 games, although he missed most of the Bearcats’ Military Bowl victory due to injury. That completion percentage ranked third in the American Athletic Conference, and it wasn’t just on dump offs either. Ridder totaled 2,445 yards and averaged 8.4 adjusted yards per attempt, which was the highest mark by a Bearcat since 2015. Ridder’s confidence with downfield throws and his quick adaption to his role as starter were most evident in games against SMU and East Carolina. He compiled 352 yards on 33-of-50 passing against the Mustangs and 335 yards (not to mention four touchdowns) in the regular season finale against the Pirates.
Even as he let the ball fly longer down field, he still avoided many mistakes, throwing only five interceptions compared with 20 touchdowns. That’s not to say turnovers weren’t a bit of an issue, as Ridder did show a propensity to fumble the ball, but his ball security should improve as he begins his second season as the full-time starter.
Ridder’s ability to make the right decision with the ball also carried over to the running game where he expertly executed plays that were the key to UC’s run-heavy offense. Such an offensive scheme meant that Ridder didn’t always get to rack up huge passing yardage totals like he did against SMU and East Carolina. In fact those were two of only four games of 200 passing yards or more he accumulated. However, the game plan featured Ridder’s skills as a playmaker on the ground. He rushed for 583 total yards and five touchdowns, reaching at least 60 yards in six games. With such skill at escaping the pocket and picking up yards on the ground in addition to his passing work, Ridder was the ideal player to lead the Bearcats on offense.
As the 2019 season begins, Ridder and the Bearcats are in a much different place than they were a year ago at this time. Even though the Bearcats will once again get things started against UCLA, there are now legitimate league championship expectations resting on their shoulders. Those expectations for the Bearcats run in parallel to those for Ridder himself, meaning that the sophomore signal caller will carry a great deal of responsibility. Considering how quickly he proved himself last season, the Bearcats should be confident that he will up to the challenge.