UCLA fans may remember Desmond Ridder, the redshirt freshman quarterback who made his college debut against the Bruins in 2018. Ridder had a pretty poor outing against UCLA (13-24 for 100 yards, no touchdowns, 2 sacks, and QB rating of 28), but he rushed 14 times for 46 yards, and did enough to keep drives alive and not cost his team the game. Ridder had a fantastic season overall, finishing with an average QB rating of 146.4 (Dorian Thompson-Robinson finished with a rating of 122.3, and Wilton Speight finished with a rating of 126), showing how truly talented he is as the signal caller in Luke Fickell’s offense.
Ridder returns in 2019 as a seasoned veteran, and like Thompson-Robinson, Cincinnati fans expect him to jump in production, taking the fabled “sophomore leap.” It remains to be seen just how much Ridder could stand to improve on his freshman outing, which was by all accounts extremely successful (62.4% completion percentage, nearly 2,500 yards, 20 TDs and 5 interceptions, not to mention 11 wins). I would argue, as I will explain below, that he may in fact be in for a sophomore slump in the early season, due to factors out of his control. He certainly may put up good stats, as he returns some key skill position players, but overall his numbers, and perhaps Cincinnati’s win total, might decline as teams now have plenty of film on him, and his offensive line suffered crippling attrition.
As a quarterback, Ridder possesses several invaluable skills. He has excellent ball placement, allowing him to throw in narrow windows while still keeping the ball out of the opponent’s hands (hence 5 interceptions thrown in 13 games). He also has excellent footwork, and throws a very catchable ball. Ridder has a great feel for the pocket as well, sensing the rush and either escaping or moving to space so he can get his passes off. Pocket presence is usually a weakness in young quarterbacks, but for Ridder it’s a strength. And finally, Ridder has excellent feet and athleticism, allowing him not just to escape the pocket, but be a dangerous factor in the run game. Indeed this skill allowed him to become Cincinnati’s second leading rusher with 572 yards and five touchdowns.
Where Ridder can improve is his arm strength. While he made several deep throws, Ridder seems to struggle putting touch on his deep passes, preferring to rifle them in, much like former UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. These low-trajectory throws are much easier to defend, and don’t take advantage of taller receivers. This may be part of the reason that the Bearcats throw predominantly short and medium range passes. Ridder can also improve his decision-making. While he didn’t throw many interceptions, he suffered several games where he struggled to complete passes, namely against Temple (14 completions on 33 attempts) and UCF (11 completions on 26 attempts). If Ridder can refine his arm strength and touch, and improve his decision-making, he will be a true force to be reckoned with in the AAC.
Behind Ridder is freshman QB Ben Bryant, who in various camp reports has had an impressive fall, showing the ability to move the offense with his beautiful deep ball, which he has shown since he was a 3-star high school recruit out of LaGrange, IL.