Georgia faces another explosive QB in Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder

Georgia Bulldogs will have to contend with dual-threat Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder, who had the most rushing TDs by an FBS quarterback this season, in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

ATHENS — Georgia was lit up this season in losses to No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Florida. Any discussion about the Bulldogs’ defense in 2020 generally begins and ends with those games.

Well, here comes Cincinnati, and based on anecdotes and observations this week, this will be the best offense Georgia has faced since then, with some notable additional challenges.

In Desmond Ridder, the No. 8-ranked Bearcats (9-0) feature arguably the best dual-threat quarterback in college football. While Georgia has encountered prolific offenses this season, it hasn’t encountered anything like him.

A 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior, Ridder makes the pass-run guess the most critical aspect of any play. But that’s before the ad-lib factor kicks in. Sometimes escaping pressure or running the ball because everybody else is covered is Ridder’s most effective play.

Of course, the Bearcats feature some designed runs as well. Among Ridder’s highlights this season is a 91-yard touchdown run.

“Don’t remember any (quarterbacks) going 91,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said, clearly impressed.

“He’s really smart,” Smart continued. “He puts them in the right play a lot. I think they put a lot on him check-wise, and you can see he does a great job of getting them in the right play.”

There will be the predictable caveats about level of competition but, as it is, Ridder has completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 2,090 yards, has rushed for another 609 yards and accounted for 29 touchdowns one way or the other.

“Desmond’s a player,” Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning said on a Peach Bowl Zoom call Monday. “What makes Desmond unique, and he probably doesn’t get enough credit for, is his ability to run. I think he’s the second-winningest quarterback in Cincinnati history, has a really strong arm, is up for basically every quarterback award, and I would put him in the top three quarterbacks we played this season in my mind.”

Lanning did not designate who the first two would be, but it’s likely Alabama’s Mac Jones and Florida’s Kyle Trask, in some order. Those two quarterbacks are included among the four Heisman Trophy finalists. The other two were Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith.

Credit: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Georgia had a hand elevating the Alabama and Florida candidates for college football’s top award. Each of them had scintillating performances against the Bulldogs in high-profile, midseason matchups versus a defense that was advertised among the best in college football.

  • Jones threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns, Smith caught 11 passes for 167 yards and two scores and Alabama piled up 564 yards in a 41-24 win on Oct. 17 in Tuscaloosa.
  • Three weeks later, Trask hit the Bulldogs with 474 yards and four touchdowns on 30-of-43 passing in a 44-28 victory in Jacksonville.

Those are, of course, Georgia’s only two losses this season.

Other than that, UGA’s defense was its usual suffocating self. While the Bulldogs dropped some from national rankings that had them in the top five at the end of last season, they again led the SEC in total defense (322.8 ypg) and were second only to Alabama in points allowed (19.9 pg).

“I would first say the season’s not over,” Smart said in assessing Georgia’s defensive play. “We try to look at it in the context of the entire season. Although we won’t have the exact same defense out there for this one that we had most of the season, we’ll have some of the same guys. But, to be honest, we didn’t have the whole defense out there after Kentucky the rest of the year in terms of complete and healthy. That’s the case all across college football.

“But we try to go back and look at things from the perspective of an entire season, be objective about it, try to find areas we can improve in, things we can work on. Won’t be any different with this group.”

While Georgia had its full complement for Alabama, it notably lost nose guard Jordan Davis and safety Richard LeCounte to injuries before playing Florida on Nov. 7. Both are expected to play against Cincinnati.

However, the Bulldogs will play without some other key defenders Friday. Most notably, middle linebacker Monty Rice, who has played on an injured foot most of the season, is opting out. So is All-SEC cornerback Eric Stokes. Also, outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson, second on the team in sacks with 5, bolted for Florida State.

About all this, you’ll not catch the Bearcats licking their chops. While they’re a very confident offensive team, they’re also mindful of having not played a defense the caliber of Georgia’s this season.

Asked what immediately stood out about the Bulldogs’ defense, Cincinnati offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said, “an immediate everything.”

“It’d probably bode well for us to have another 30-day layoff to get ready,” he quipped of Georgia’s multi-scheme approach.

And Ridder himself was very complimentary of what he has seen in film study.

“They’re big, they’re fast, they’re strong, they’re physical and they’re smart,” Ridder said. “They’re lengthy on the outside and they play smart ball. If they make a mistake, they have the ability to cover and make up ground. They’re really big up front, and they like to win.”

While the Bearcats have more than their share of skilled players to unleash on Georgia – running back Gerrid Doaks averages 74.8 yards rushing per game, and he’s one of eight players with dozen or more catches – it’s unquestionably Ridder who sets them apart.

Jones and Trask are big quarterbacks who generally sit in the pocket and look for open receivers downfield. Ridder generally doesn’t do a lot of sitting around.

“He can make all the throws, and he’s a dynamic runner as well,” Lanning said.

Said linebacker Nakobe Dean: “He’s definitely a playmaker. That whole offense runs through him, and you can tell he’s the heartbeat.”

Ridder is just the latest challenge for a Georgia defense that has had a season full of them. The Bulldogs were unable to answer those presented by Alabama and Florida earlier this season, but they’re eager to prove those were exceptions rather than a trend.

Slowing down Cincinnati’s offensive juggernaut would be a step in the right direction.

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