Desmond’s Swagger-Backed Turnaround

Desmond Ridder is in the middle of arguably the most exciting (and important) quarterback turnaround in the history of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football program. In his first three games, Ridder threw for six touchdowns, four interceptions, and had no rushing touchdowns. In his last five outings, however, he has thrown 10 touchdowns, only two interceptions, and rushed for an additional 11 scores.

The Record Books

Mr. Ridder is quietly making his way to the top of record books in Clifton. He is only three touchdown throws away from being 2nd all time among University of Cincinnati quarterbacks, trailing just Gino Guidugli. In three years, Desmond has connected on 54 touchdown passes – 24 behind Guidugli’s number of 78 in his four years (2001-2004).

On the ground, Mr. Ridder is tied for 8th all time among Bearcats rushers, having racked up 21 rushing scores during his career. Likewise, he is 8th all time for rushing touchdowns in a single season, having reached pay dirt 11 times so far this year. For context, if Ridder rushes for another touchdown this season (highly likely) he will tie Isaiah Pead’s production in 2011.

Just a few more details kindly shared by Ryan Koslen, UC’s sports information director:

  • Des has won American Athletic Conference Player of the Week honors in four of the last five weeks.
  • Des has the 3rd highest winning percentage among active FBS quarterbacks with 20+ wins (87.8%).
  • Des is now 5th all time in passing yards at UC, with 6,430 yards.

A More Complete Picture

While statistics are lovely indicators of success, there’s plenty the numbers couldn’t quantify in the first three games (and can’t quantify in the five games since) – Desmond Ridder has retained the unqualified trust and respect of his teammates. That trust and respect is something he’s earned by not only performing on the field, but by being a tremendous teammate and leader in the Bearcats locker room. Desmond’s personal attributes (i.e., the manner in which he treats people, personally cares about the other 10 guys on the field, and invests in players regardless of where they find themselves on the depth chart) might be even more dazzling than his statistical turnaround this season.

After the first three games, many fans and commentators were (not-so-quietly) expressing dissatisfaction with Coach Fickell’s continued reliance upon Ridder’s quarterback services. Like others, I was worried. Though I kept my concerns to myself (and away from my tweets), the offense looked like it was sputtering and things weren’t clicking as they had in Desmond’s red shirt freshman or sophomore campaigns. But my eyes, and the early data sets, lied to me. Or at least they didn’t provide a complete picture.

Maybe not immediately evident to the casual (or even committed) observer, Desmond’s intrepid character provided a means for grinding through a tough few games. He’s the same player who confidently commanded the Bearcats to an upset victory over UCLA in Pasadena as a red shirt freshman. Seemingly out of nowhere, Desmond just made plays despite his inexperience and the grand stage of Rose Bowl Stadium. He’s always had a swagger that’s hard to describe; his confidence is animating and insulating. A more complete picture.

While you cannot place a numerical value on it, team chemistry, comradery, and culture are often what separates good teams from great ones. Those bonds, that brotherhood, isn’t something exclusively formed on Saturdays in Autumn. It’s developed at workouts in February, in dorm rooms at Camp Higher Ground, and it accumulates as players respond to adversity during their playing careers. In spite of the early optics, Desmond’s teammates and coaches believed in him based on his full body of work at the University of Cincinnati. Again, a more complete picture.

While quarterbacks are often referred to as “signal callers,” they don’t have discretion to choose most plays at the collegiate level. They also get little to no input on the type of offensive scheme employed by the Offensive Coordinator. The most difficult part of any Coordinator’s job is matching the strengths of his roster to plays within his preferred offensive scheme, all the while anticipating defensive vulnerabilities and trying to maintain a measured rhythm to play calling. If play calling is out of step with execution or execution becomes impractical based upon personnel, the offense sputters. Some coaches get so committed to a specific scheme, their pride undermines potential. After the first three games produced anemic results, Coaches Denbrock and Guidugli didn’t stubbornly cram the same approach onto the roster; they got creative by calling more designed QB runs, earlier in games. Behind the scenes, the coaches went to work on orchestrating offensive opportunities that ended up capitalizing on Desmond’s passing and rushing ability. Again, a more complete picture.

Trust In Fickell

There are a number of reasons Luke Fickell is compensated the handsome sum of $3.4 million to lead the University of Cincinnati football program, while critics fork over their own money to post untrained observations on online message boards. There are also reasons Luke Fickell hasn’t yet invited me to leave my law practice to join his coaching staff. He has my phone number, so that’s not the issue….

The bottom line is Coach Fickell (and Coaches Denbrock and Guidugli) saw things in Desmond that others didn’t. But far more importantly, Desmond clearly saw something within himself. Despite the doubts and criticisms, Desmond doubled down and believed in himself. And I’m sure glad he did.

The Bearcats are 8-0, ranked 7th in the AP Poll, and in the mix for an invitation to the College Football Playoff. They’re scheduled to next face a beleaguered Temple team Saturday, assuming the Owls can get their Covid-19 issues under control. Even now, it’s unclear whether the Bearcats will step onto Lincoln Financial Field as Temple’s roster could be even more depleted by quarantine protocols than it was last week against ECU. Regardless of whether they face a dumpster fire Temple team on Saturday or Tulsa on December 12th, I expect Desmond Ridder to carry forward the momentum of his last five games.

By Brian Fox

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